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Markets

Housing shortage ahead?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 11, 2012 06:44 AM

The number of home for sales in Greater Boston is down significantly, falling more than 20 percent over the past year, a new report by Zillow finds.

And the biggest shortage is among lower-priced homes, with inventory for the bottom tier of homes for sale in the Boston area dropping 21.4 percent over the past year. That's followed by a 20.3 percent drop inventory drop in middle-tier homes and a 19.1 percent drop in the number of high-end homes available for sale, Zillow reports.

The drop in homes for sale in Greater Boston is a little higher than the national average, with a 19.4 percent decline in listings over the past year.

First-time buyers are likely to feel the crunch first given the bigger drop in inventory in the lower tier - sorry, not defined by Zillow but I'm checking.

That's particularly bad news. After all, starter homes in the Boston area are already something of a joke - it's often a choice between a fixer-upper closer in and a house in better condition beyond 495.

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A suburban comeback?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 10, 2012 08:51 AM

Ultimately, people vote with their feet - by where they choose to live. And by that measure, suburban living is back, a new study finds.

While the hipster hotspots such as Davis Square are almost exclusively urban, the majority of new households in Greater Boston are being formed in the suburbs or in suburban-like areas within various city lines, according to a just released analysis of postal service data by Trulia.

In the Boston area, urban neighborhoods saw growth of .27 percent in new households from September 2011 to September 2012, while less dense, more suburban areas grew at more than twice the pace, by .63 percent, according to Trulia.

In fact, only five of the 50 major markets tracked did the number of urban households grow faster over the past year than their suburban counterparts, a group that predictably includes New York and Chicago as well as San Jose and Memphis.

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Are young buyers spoiled?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 9, 2012 09:40 AM

I blogged a couple days ago about a 1950s cape in Woburn that "fishwood," a regular on the comment board of this blog, is looking to sell.

In theory, it could be a nice opportunity for a first-time buyer or young couple looking to start a family.

It needs work, but the renovations are manageable and the price is right - fishwood is looking at selling his roughly 1,400 square foot cape for $275,000 and letting the next owner polish it up.

But are the Gen Y'ers out there simply too demanding? Even just plain spoiled? Can today's buyers get over the fact that fishwood's cape probably lacks granite countertops and stainless steel appliances to see the potential of a diamond in the rough?

Here's what "rebadad" had to say:

I am a South of Boston agent and about half of my buyers are young (under 35). Believe me when I say, they are wonderful customers, but they totally lack any imagination. They cannot see potential. They want it all, and they want it now. If I was the owner of this property, I would definitely do the upgrades (stainless, solid countertops, etc.). It will sell the house!

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Homeowners, agents, see prices headed up

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 5, 2012 06:39 AM

Wow, looks like that nasty real estate downturn is finally history now. What a relief!

At least that's what a big majority of real estate agents and a growing number of homeowners across the country think, a new survey by HomeGain finds.

After years of pessimism over the direction of home prices, real estate sales folks are finally once again seeing the sunny side of things.

In fact, the numbers are pretty amazing - 80 percent of real estate folks and 62 percent of homeowners see prices going up over the next two years. By contrast, just 5 percent of agents and 14 percent of homeowners polled see home values going down between now and 2014.

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Can he sell his 1950s Woburn cape?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 4, 2012 06:32 AM

For everyone bemoaning the lack of half-decent homes below $400,000 inside I-495, meet "fishwood."

A regular on the comment board of this blog, fishwood just moved to Connecticut with his wife and children to take a new job.

Now, as he settles into a new $275,000 house down in the Nutmeg State, he's faced with the dilemma of what to do with his 1,400-square-foot, 1950s cape in Woburn.

Fishwood pretty clearly realizes he will have to sell in the below-$400,000 end of the market, but that still leaves a big question: Should he fix it up and try to sell it or simply treat it as a "dump" and slap it on the market as is?


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A too common tale: Sold at a loss

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 3, 2012 06:16 AM

Yes, sales are up across Greater Boston, but it's a tale of two markets out there.

Sellers with the most desirable homes are fielding multiple offers, but many others, especially if their homes have a blemish or two, are taking a bath.

Roughly a third of all homes in the Boston area are still selling for a loss, according to a Zillow report over the summer.

Just take Lauren in South Weymouth, who I first blogged about earlier this year.

Lauren bought her three-bedroom Cape back in 2008 for $300,000 and put it on the market back in February for $309,000.

Instead, she recently wound up selling her 1,394-square-foot, 1950s cape for $280,000. And that's after pumping $25,000 into various upgrades since she bought it four years ago, from renovating the bathroom to new windows and a new heating system.

In a final concession to picky buyers, Lauren ditched the nasty, mustard colored carpet that had been a major turnoff while repainting the stairwell to give it a lighter look.

Here's a link to the listing.

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Housing recovery imperiled by bumbling Congress?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 2, 2012 06:28 AM

The looming federal "fiscal cliff" could snuff out the budding real estate recovery unless Congress gets off its duff and acts soon, a report just out this morning warns.

If Washington fails to hammer out a compromise on the nation's mounting debt obligations, a series of draconian budget cuts and tax hikes will kick in next year.

Economists are already warning of another recession should budget Armageddon erupt, but the real estate market would go right over the fiscal cliff along with it, contends market tracker Clear Capital in a report out this morning.

"We've turned our focus to the impending fiscal cliff," said Dr. Alex Villacorta, Director of Research and Analytics at Clear Capital, in a press release. "With forecasted gains of 2.2% over the next six months, the threat of the fiscal cliff could throw a wrench into the recovery."

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Sellers holding out for higher prices?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 1, 2012 07:39 AM

That's local economist Michael Goodman's take on the steadily dropping number of homes for sale on the market.

Co-editor MassBenchmarks, the influential journal that tracks the Massachusetts economy, Goodman is an associate professor and chairman of the public policy department at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

And Goodman contends that sellers holding for higher prices down the road is major factor behind the dwindling number of for-sale signs.

Overall, the inventory of homes for sale across the state plunged 22 percent in August and has dropped seven in the last 10 months, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reported last week. There was a seven month supply of unsold homes on the market at the end of August, a dramatic shift compared to August 2011, when there was nearly a year's worth of properties languishing on market.

"Press reports ... are leading some buyers to believe if they hold their homes off the market until later, they will be able to get a better price," Goodman told a breakfast meeting of the Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce out in Westborough. "You are starting to hear anecdotal stories of people fighting over properties."

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Real estate valuation. FNC index

Posted by Rona Fischman September 28, 2012 01:59 PM

I spoke to Robert Dorsey of FNC about how this index was created and what he can do with it. (Nice guy. He even speaks “non-math” well.)

Yesterday, I wrote about S&P Case-Shiller and their repeat sale methodology. It is a good index, but FNC has something Case and Shiller couldn’t get in the 1980s – more data. FNC gets its property information from loan origination databases – in other words, right from the mortgage property appraisals and BP0s (Broker Price Opinions.) This provides a more detailed picture of the size and condition of properties being sold than public records can. It gives information that accounts for depreciation or improvement of the property between sales. It is simply more and better data. FNC collects that, then, blends it with public records.

They worked at the database for ten years to build the index based on all the physical characteristics typical for housing. (Those include physical characteristics, like size and condition. It also can factor in school districts, distance for a specific site, zip code, waterfront properties, and more.) This allows for a good look at neighborhoods and what happens to housing prices there.

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Would you buy a flip?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 28, 2012 07:55 AM

Given all the run-down, overpriced homes for sale in Greater Boston, choices are limited.

So if you want to snag something below $400,000 inside the 495 beltway, you are going to have to do some work - or pay someone else to do it.

That's where the flippers come in. Rundown homes and foreclosure specials are a flippers delight - it's how they make money. And a lot of people are in the game right now, particularly small-time investors and brokers.

Here's a link to a pair of dudes from Boxborough who were recently featured on A&E flipping homes in Lynn and other North Shore towns. The duo's efforts were also chronicled in the local papers as well - here's a piece from the Lynn Journal.

Frankly, I'm inclined to be suspicious - why pay a big markup for fresh paint and redone floors when you can do that work yourself, or, for that matter, contract out for less? At least you know what work was actually done - and hopefully have a better sense of the quality.

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Real estate valuation. Case, Shiller and Weiss

Posted by Rona Fischman September 27, 2012 02:01 PM

When I started in real estate, in the early 1990s, the Case-Shiller-Weiss index was the best thing since sliced bread. For a fee, I could buy a subscription to a program that would give me a fair market value price for a specific property based on repeat sales data. I still did a CMA on my own, before reading what the program spit out.

By the middle of the 1990s, the C-S-W Index started to fail me, because the areas I was working in did not have sufficient data for the program to work. I had report requests come back saying that C-S-W could not set a price because of “economic noise” in the data (or something like that.) Yet, Case-Shiller-Weiss Index was still the best info in town.

This is how it works (in an oversimplified way): Market patterns are found by tracking houses that had sold more than once, calculating the rise or fall of that house’s sale price over the years. By crunching the information about the rise or fall of many houses in an area, the local trend can be identified. Back in the 1990s, the print edition of the Boston Globe had a little chart of the Case-Shiller-Weiss index for the Boston area on the front of the Sunday Real Estate section. It was a nice little colorful graph with a line wiggling up and down as the seasons changed. At some point the graph went away.
Standard and Poor’s bought the Index in 2002. It is still one of the indices that most people look to for real estate information. Here’s the site. If you want to see when the bubbles came and broke, you can see it there.

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Only “trash” available under $400,000?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 27, 2012 11:53 AM

Ouch! That's the rather harsh assessment of the Greater Boston real estate market by a disgruntled buyer.

After failing to find any home he liked under $400,000, fleetian had this to say on the comment board on my post about rising interest among buyers in lower priced homes.

We found a bunch of trash in this price range. Some was dressed up and some was not. My landlord is the big winner as we will stay in our nice apartment until we can afford something nicer.

Well I guess it depends on what your definition of what "trash" is.

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Real estate valuation, the a very basic lesson

Posted by Rona Fischman September 26, 2012 01:53 PM

Today, I start from the beginning, earlier than 101, to explain how real estate data is collected and what it means.

When you don’t have enough data, or data that is too heterogeneous, averages and medians do not tell you anything that is helpful.

An average is derived when you add all the data points together and divide by the number of data points. So, averages can be changed dramatically by one or a few very high or very low figures in the data. The average of 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 is 5.5 (add them to 55. Divide by 10 to get 5.5) That seems right; it’s sort of in the middle of these numbers. But, if there is an outlier, high or low, look what happens: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,74. (Adds up to 129. Divide by 11 equals 11.7.) That number, 11, does not reflect the vast majority of numbers in the series. That’s why, in real estate, a single million-dollar sale in a modest town makes the average sale price figure for that town higher than it should be.

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Hottest part of market? Under $400,000

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 26, 2012 10:07 AM

Boston-area home prices continue to rally, rising just about a percent in July, according to the latest Case-Shiller report.

But far more interesting is where prices are heating up - in the mid and lower end of the market.

The gold standard of the real estate tracking business, Case-Shiller focuses on repeat sales of existing homes.

And right now prices are rising significantly faster in Greater Boston on homes listed below $401,000 than for those at the high end of the market, Case-Shiller's July report finds.

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Are buyers to blame for housing bubbles?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 25, 2012 08:13 AM

It's easy to blame bankers and real estate agents for the housing mess. But maybe it's also time to take a good hard look in the mirror.

Karl Case and Robert Shiller recently collaborated on new research that looks at the power of belief in driving up home prices.

The dynamic duo, founders of the vaunted Case-Shiller housing index, laid out their case last Friday before a Newport hotel hall packed with mortgage bankers.(OK, blaming the buyers also probably went over well given the audience, but I will leave that for another post.)

Here's an observation from Case - as reported by Banker & Tradesman - that gets right to the point.

"It's the people who have the highest willingness to pay that drive the price," Case said.

Think about the implications of that - it's pretty frightening. It's not the savvy buyers sticking with a budget who are driving this train.

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Rising rents: Reality or just scare tactics?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 24, 2012 07:48 AM

Stop scaring people with all those high rents from Wellesley and the Back Bay!

That's the push back that predictably comes after any post or article that mentions some of the more expensive rental markets out there.

Here's what sturgis79 had to say about my recent Globe West article and post about soaring suburban rents.

Talking about $3500 a month rents in Wellesley or Back Bay makes for sensational writing, but it just doesn't apply to 95% of the people out there. Anyone who is paying $3500 a month for rent really needs to take a finance 101 course. You could get yourself a $600K home for that kind of money. And really, using Wellesley to argue the rental increase point is weak. That's like using Brockton to argue that home prices are going to drop by 50% from current levels.

Sturgis, with all due respect, you are wrong on this one. Rents are up across the board, and not just in Wellesley. And it's far better to look squarely at the unpleasant realities of the perpetually-price-inflated Greater Boston housing market than to try and wish away all those crazy rents and home prices.

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Looking at the rental market, in charts

Posted by Rona Fischman September 21, 2012 01:55 PM

Anthony Adamski, founder of PadMatcher wanted to share their look back at rental season. (John Moore brought you the August entry on finding a roommate.)

PadMatcher posted some graphs that show what is going on in rentals in the Boston area. Reminder: this is Boston-specific.

The bears, who live in the woods of cyberspace and come to feed on this site, like to make fun of “soaring rents.” Today is your day.

I find the first chart most interesting. The data comes from Zillow/Rentjuice. According to the first chart, there was a trend change last winter. Rents went up steadily through the winter of 2011-2012, which is not the typical cycle. Limited supply in Q1 and Q4 generally makes this the slowest time of year for rentals. After September first, demand generally drops as well. There are a number of factors that can explain that the difference last winter. One of them being an increase in demand. Another, an increase in higher-priced available units (and fewer lower-cost units available.) Neither bode well for the stability of the housing market.

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Are renters getting priced out of the suburbs?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 21, 2012 06:33 AM

Rents are skyrocketing in the suburbs as well as the city.

And that's presenting renters with a choice buyers in perpetually-too-expensive Greater Boston have long faced, of either moving farther out in search of a better deal or paying up in order to stay closer to work.

In fact, many renters are in danger of being pushed out beyond 495 in search of a deal, a situation middle-income buyers have long faced in the Boston area.

The western suburbs are seeing some of the steepest rent increases in the country, while the northern burbs are not far behind.

Middlesex County, for example, ranks up in the top ten markets in the country experiencing the steepest rent increases, with a 9.6 percent increase in median rents in August, according to Trulia.

And many towns are seeing even bigger increases than that.

Meanwhile, renters north of Boston and in the Merrimack Valley are faced with a similar escalation, with an 8.9 percent increase from 2007 to the first half of 2012.

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Housing bears: Time to hibernate?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 20, 2012 06:51 AM

Oh my, it was a bad day for the housing bears!

A torrent of positive housing market news tumbled forth Wednesday, with both sales and housing starts up markedly.

Sales of existing homes leaped 7.8 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. It was the biggest jump since the home buyer tax credit ginned up sales back in May 2010 and it beat economists' expectations, Reuters reports.

And Massachusetts and other New England states are right in the middle of this rebound, according to a separate report sent out by RE/MAX of New England.

Massachusetts home sales jumped 21 percent, year-over-year, in August, with pending sales rising 25 percent. The median price of a single family home in the Bay State inched up 1 percent, to $310,000, RE/MAX reports.

Meanwhile, housing starts also jumped, rising 2.3 percent for an annual pace of 750,000 new starts.

Still, before the housing bulls get carried away here, let's put some of these numbers in context.

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Should debt-laden buyers be handed mortgages?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 19, 2012 08:29 AM

That's the subject of a crucial but little reported tug of war going on between the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the real estate industry.

The National Association of Realtors is furiously lobbying against a range of new regulations it contends will further restrict the flow of credit to prospective home buyers.

Some of this stuff is a bit arcane. That said, a provision being mulled by the fledgling new federal agency - one that would cap how much outside debt a prospective buyer could bring to the table - is anything but obscure.

The new federal consumer bureau wants to cap the amount of debt a prospective home buyer could take on to 43 percent of total income. The norm is typically 36 percent.

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Is fear trumping hope in this real estate market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 18, 2012 07:04 AM

If you are staying put this fall, you are not alone.

In fact, you are part of a growing trend that threatens to lock down the real estate market, on both the buy and rent side.

For home buyers, dwindling inventory has already become a major issue and is only getting worse. Buyers too often are forced to battle it out in multiple bid situations for the few half decent, well-priced homes out there.

Now renters hunting for new digs are running into the same problem as well, with not much to look at.

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Buying now 45 percent cheaper than renting?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 17, 2012 08:43 AM

So says Trulia in a new survey that compares the cost of buying with renting in the nation's top 100 metro markets.

And Greater Boston is supposedly right in the middle of this trend, with buying now a much better bet economically than renting in both the city and in the suburbs as well.

Still, while I have no doubt that soaring rents have once again made buying a more attractive option, I am having a hard time getting my mind around Trulia's numbers, which seem overly aggressive.

On the North Shore, buying is now 52 percent cheaper than renting, for a saving of $1,176 , while in the western suburbs, the differential is about $1,000 a month in favor of buying, for a savings of 45 percent.

In Boston, buying is now 41 percent cheaper than renting, for a monthly savings of $918, Trulia says.

I wouldn't go as far as to say you need to read the print here, but the devil definitely is in the details when it comes to such seemingly too-good-to-be-true numbers.

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Obama's housing recovery?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 13, 2012 07:28 AM

The housing market is better off today than it was four years ago.

So argues Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist, who surveys the housing landscape across the country and comes away encouraged after looking at how bad things were back in early 2009, when President Obama first took office.

By the time Obama gave his inauguration speech, housing prices across the country had collapsed, falling nearly 30 percent.

Over the next three years, home prices dropped another 7.5 percent, before reversing that trend over the past nine months. As of June, prices had rebounded 3.6 percent, Kolko notes.

By the time we all head to the polls this November, home prices should be just 2.2 percent below where they were when Obama first took office.

“When Obama took office, prices were in free fall, and now they have stabilized,” he writes.

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Are buyers too picky these days?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 12, 2012 10:54 AM

It has been open season now for years on sellers. They are a favorite target in the comments section of this blog, often derided as greedily holding out for prices that made sense during the real estate bubble, but not in today's market.

And yes, some buyers are out of touch with market realities.

But what about buyers? After all, while some sellers may very well have unrealistic, ego-inflated expectations, some buyers may not know a good deal if it hit them over the head.

Some buyers, for example, are unwilling to deviate from their rigid idea of an acceptable home, or, for that matter, an acceptable town.

And more often than not, it is the 2,000-square-foot, four-bedroom colonial.

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Are consumers all mixed up on housing, economy?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 10, 2012 05:58 PM

When it comes to the home prices and the economy, consumers have developed a bizarre, split personality.

Confidence in the housing market is finally growing again among consumers, even as sentiment on the fate of the overall economy grows darker, according to Fannie Mae's August 2012 National Housing Survey.

Yet the same folks who were so encouraged by signs of a rebound in the housing market believe the economy is headed downhill fast.

The percentage of consumers who believe the economy is headed in the wrong direction has been ticked up steadily since January and has now reached 60 percent, Fannie Mae reports.

Go figure. The last time I checked, the economy and the housing market were pretty closely intertwined.

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Are landlords going fee crazy?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 7, 2012 08:30 AM

The landlord is now king in this increasingly red hot rental market.

Big apartment complex owners and mom-and-pop operators alike are boosting rents in a market where the number of vacant units has hit rock bottom.

The vacancy rate in the Route 128 corridor, for example, has fallen below 3 percent, according to a recent study cited by the Boston Business Journal.

But some apartment building owners aren't satisfied with just collecting higher rents. Instead, they have taken to hitting up tenants with a bewildering range of fees as well.

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Are the bargains gone?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 6, 2012 07:38 AM

Home sellers are getting more confident. Or at least they are raising their expectations.

Asking prices jumped 2.3 percent across the country in August, Trulia notes in its latest monthly price and rent report. When foreclosures are taken out of the equation, that number increases to 3.8 percent.

It is the biggest year-over-year increase since the good old days before the Great Recession!

Greater Boston asking prices are rising as well, though at a somewhat slower place, jumping 1.7 percent in August.

Still, Boston area home prices never saw the massive declines that markets like Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas experienced after the real estate bubble burst, so the increases, while smaller, are nevertheless significant.

In fact, the days of bargain hunting appear long gone now in the Hub and its suburbs.

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Has Frank finally found his house?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 5, 2012 07:32 AM

Our loveable tech guy Frank has been house hunting for the past four years while renting a condo in Woburn with his wife.

Frank is not looking for his dream home - but rather a half decent abode for something less than $400,000 that he can start a family in. A diamond in the rough, as he puts it.

It's been quite a journey, to say the least. Frank got laid off during the recession, but bounced back and found a new job without any serious financial damage.

He's fumed at pricey new construction in Woburn and had more than one of his below-the-listing-price offers spurned, sometimes rather rudely.

Frank even got a real estate license in order to get easier and quicker access to homes he might be interested in.

But with rents going up, up, and up, Frank says he realizes now is the time to make the jump.

Now Frank believe he has finally found the house he has been looking for all these years in an unnamed town - not one, he assures us, that begins with W - but first wants to get the advice of the bears on this blog.

"This is key for me, my RENT will NOT go down, in the coming years," Frank writes

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Are buyers bummed out?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 4, 2012 07:59 AM

So says Redfin in a troubling new survey of buyers in 19 major metro markets across the country, including Boston.

Fewer than half the buyers out there - 46 percent - actually believe it is a good time to be house hunting, according to the online brokerage firm.

That's a big shift from the first quarter, when hopes for deals and bargains was much higher among buyers as the spring sales season approached. Back then, 56 percent said it was good time to buy, Redfin notes.

However, probably the most dramatic change is in buyers' expectations of where home prices are headed. The number of buyers who believe home prices are headed up has nearly doubled, to 61 percent from 32 percent in the first quarter.

So what's made home buyers so glum?

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Do you really need big bucks to buy and start a family?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 31, 2012 08:39 AM

So how much should you earn before buying a house and starting a family? Well for a certain drussian, a homeowner and family man here it the Boston area, the answer is simple: $200,000.

And if nothing else, his Scrooge-like comments the other day on my post about the high cost daycare in Greater Boston certainly stirred the pot!

To be accurate, he was referring to family income and what a couple brings in together. Still, in drussian's view, you are financially irresponsible if you buy a home and try and start a
family here in the Boston area on less than $200,000.

And if you opt to procreate before hitting that golden mark, well don't come crying to him about the high cost of day care and college!

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Are parents really flocking to buy in these towns?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 30, 2012 07:01 AM

Westford, Lynnfield and Medfield are among the Greater Boston suburbs that have become magnets for families with school age children, or so says Trulia.

The online real estate site put out the list this morning. It focuses on the ratio of school age children, age 5-9, to preschool kids 4 and under. Here's the theory: Towns with a high ratio of school age kids to younger, pre-school children are places where parents move to in search of better schools when their children were ready for kindergarten and grade school.

OK, it seems a little simplistic. Still, I'll hand it to Trulia, for it's also an interesting way of cutting the numbers. And, if nothing else, the whole exercise has yielded an interesting and not implausible group of supposedly popular school districts, from Westford to Weston.

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Is real estate rebound for real?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 29, 2012 09:06 AM

Wouldn't seem to be much for the real estate bears to growl about right now, with all the key numbers pointing up.

Certainly latest piece market reports, both local and national, can't be simply brushed aside as a fluke or self-serving propaganda by real estate boosters.

July homes sales were the best since 2005, soaring nearly 27 percent, The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, reports this morning.

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors reported a similar 22.7 percent jump in July sales in its monthly report.

Nationally, all 20 cities tracked by the Case-Shiller index saw price gains in June over May, with Boston posting a 2.5 percent increase, though Hub prices were essentially flat year-over-year.

Still, there are more than a few reasons to be cautious, though it may be hard to for the bears out there to get worked up into full roar. I guess we will have to see about that.

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Looking to buy? Better save up – for daycare

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 28, 2012 09:33 AM

If you are the modern, two-income couple, how much home you can buy depends how old your children are. Believe me, I've been there.

Daycare centers in Massachusetts on average charge nearly $15,000 a year to care for an infant full-time while mom and dad are at work, according to a new report on day care costs across the country.

For just one child, that's $1,250 a month.

And if you have twins - well you can do the math!

For parents, it's like shouldering an additional mortgage payment.

In fact, day care costs weigh more heavily here in Greater Boston on prospective home buyers than anywhere else in the country, with Massachusetts No. 1 in the cost of daycare.

Here's what a new report on the child care expenses across the country just put out by Child Care Aware of America.

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Greater Boston home prices: Could $700,000 ever become the norm?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 27, 2012 11:35 AM

For all those who think the median home price in the Boston area will never hit three-quarters of a million dollars, look westward.

Not long ago San Francisco seemed almost affordable again, with Bay Area prices having plunged 41 percent from their peak in 2006.

No more. Home prices in San Francisco surged nearly 4 percent from April to May, according to the latest Case-Shiller report, leading the country.

And the median home price in the Bay Area is now a hefty $705,000 and climbing.

OK, you might say, that's crazy California, not New England, it can't happen here.

But San Francisco and Boston have quite a bit in common when it comes to real estate and the economics that drive prices relentlessly skyward.

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When will they ever move out?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 24, 2012 07:47 AM

That's the question more than a few exasperated boomer parents are asking right now.

Slammed by the Great Recession, 20-somethings returned home in droves.

But it looks like what was an emergency reaction is now turning into a permanent lifestyle shift.

While the economy has slowly been picking up, junior appears quite comfortable camping out with mom and dad, stashing away money and getting free meals.

The number of young adults living with their parents increased by 2 million after the recession, Housing Wire reports, citing "economic commentary" from a Cleveland Federal Reserve official.

So in addition to a stinky economy and prolonged adolescence, what else is to blame?

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Young and foolhardy? Homeowners under 40 more likely to be underwater

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 23, 2012 06:54 AM

Here's a pretty stunning number: Just under half of all homeowners under 40 are struggling with underwater mortgages.

The stat comes from Zillow's second quarter report on negative equity. And the numbers are even higher when you look at homeowners in their early thirties, a full half of whom are underwater.

That number, however, steadily drops with age, with just under a third of homeowners in their late forties underwater and just under a quarter of those in their late fifties buried under more mortgage debt than their homes are worth, according to Zillow.

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Strategic default: A fool's game?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 22, 2012 08:01 AM

More than a few desperate homeowners, stuck with underwater mortgages, chose to walk away during the darkest days of the real estate downturn.

Soon a whole cottage industry quickly sprang up, with the term "strategic default" coined by boosters eager to give the whole trend an aura of respectability and intelligence it certainly didn't deserve.

Yes, the strategic defaulters were simply smarter than the rest of us. And they certainly saw themselves as superior to all those poor chumps who chose to hang in their, making payments on homes even though the market value had temporarily dropped amid a national economic crisis.

But with home prices finally stabilizing in Greater Boston and soaring in once hard-hit markets like Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Francisco and even Detroit, who will have the last laugh now?

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Out of control landlords

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 17, 2012 09:41 AM

With rents escalating madly, it's tough enough already for renters in Greater Boston and across the country as well.

But in addition to keeping a hand on their wallets, tenants also need to keep an eye out for those bad-apple landlords who opt to play by their own crooked rules.

It's a particularly pertinent topic given the biggest moving day of the year in the student-packed Boston area, Sept. 1, is fast approaching.

And sometimes tenants face not just discrimination, but outright abuse by predatory landlords, as in the case of Cincinnati apartment owner who was recently fined $855,000 by the feds.

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Back to a normal market? Don't bet on it

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 16, 2012 07:40 AM

The real estate market is finally getting back to normal after a downturn in prices and sales on par with the 1930s.

That's been the mantra lately of real estate market watchers.

Frankly, I've been guilty of spouting something like that.

But that does not take into account the massive backstop to home prices the federal government and even more importantly the Federal Reserve are providing right now.

Today's bizarrely low interest rates are not some economic freak of nature, but rather the product of the Fed's multitrillion-dollar monetary manipulations.

And rock bottom interest rates, a key prop that prevented housing prices from completely falling through the floor, are now subsidizing the recovery as well.

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Not paying for your mistake!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 15, 2012 08:09 AM

Unlike the bubble years, today's buyers, especially the hardened Boston-area variety, are definitely not willing to pay whatever it takes to snag a home.

And there is little sympathy for sellers who overpaid during the bubble and are now stuck trying to sell their house in 2012 at prices last seen in 2005.

Here's what one frustrated buyer, isitfriday, had to say on the comment board the other day.

Have seen so many houses for sale for what they sold for at the height of the market. I said it once and I'll say it again- I am not paying for your mistake!

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Bidding wars I know and didn't love

Posted by Rona Fischman August 14, 2012 01:46 PM

Today, I am publishing the list of bidding wars that clients of my office participated in, and lost. There were bidding wars last year and it was worse this year

Buyers, when your Offer is accepted in competition, you may have doubts about whether the agent lied to you about other Offers. Phantom Offers (made up or exaggerated competition) happen, but they don’t really work, if you keep your eyes open.

By NAR standards, Realtors™ cannot make up Offers, they are required to tell their fellow Realtors ™ how many other Offers are on the table and whether any are from the listing office. The price and terms of other Offers is confidential information. If the listing agent believes it is in the seller’s interest to disclose that information, the listing agent may do so, with the seller’s permission. (The agent does not need the buyer’s permission.)

If you were in a bidding war, and lost, comment and tell us what property. For the properties below, I know there were more than one Offer because, our clients were not the winning Offer. What I do not know is whether the final sale price was the price on the accepted Offer, or whether it was changed after home inspection or appraisal. I also do not know what contingencies were on the winning Offers.


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Frustrated buyer? Vent here!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 14, 2012 07:34 AM

OK, this is definitely not a good time to be a buyer here in Greater Boston.

The few half-decent homes that hit the market too often wind up with multiple offers, leaving a larger number of overpriced dogs in need of work - or a location change - to pick over.

Let's face it, the drop in homes for sale is fast becoming the top challenge facing the real estate market in Greater Boston.

The latest Redin numbers show a 37 percent plunge in Boston-area homes on the market in July compared to the same time last year, the Globe's Jenifer McKim reported Sunday.

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Bidding wars, 2012, a retrospective

Posted by Rona Fischman August 13, 2012 02:00 PM

This spring, I spent a lot of time talking my clients off the ledge. They were annoyed and frustrated by bidding wars. They needed advice to determine which houses are likely to sell immediately, and which had seller’s agents who were playing games. Although there are still some bearish voices who growl that it is all made up – that there are no bidding wars and all prices are going down – those bears have not been out in the metro-Boston market.

The biggest problem is that the supply of housing that matches current demand is low. There is a surplus of housing that does not suit current buyers. So, with uneven demand comes uneven prices. It is the high-demand housing that is sending buyers to the ledge. At the same time, there are run-down places and places in B, C or D locations that are sitting around waiting for some buyer demand. Buyers, with or without agents, have the task of knowing which kind of housing they are looking at.

Experience in the 2012 market:

On the same day, these two Offers were negotiated. These two properties were within ¾ of a mile from one another. The demand zones are very sensitive. What is acceptable condition varies, too. Neither of these properties has closed yet, so I can’t report on final sale prices. (example 1 is still for sale.)

One buyer had an Offer on a condo in very nice condition in a C+/B- location. The asking price was roughly $20,000 over market value, in my opinion. My client made a market-value Offer of $19,000 below that inflated asking price, best and final. The seller’s agent called to ask if the “best and final” was negotiable, and that the seller would not accept an offer less than about $5000 below asking. “The seller doesn’t need to sell,” she informed me. I double checked with my client, then called back to let the agent know that “best and final is best and final.” My client moved on. The seller doesn’t need to sell, and the seller won’t sell…

The other buyer put in an Offer on a two-family in an A- location in lousy condition. Their final Offer was $26,000 above asking price in a bidding war. The market value was about $10,000 below that, in my opinion. They didn’t get the house. The listing agent reported that their Offer was way at the bottom of the pack.

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Key economist not ready to call a housing bottom yet

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 8, 2012 08:06 AM

Predictions of a rebound in home prices are taking on a life of their own, far outstripping the actual evidence on the ground.

Just a few months ago, conventional thinking among economists and housing market watchers had pegged the real estate market as a perpetual loser.

Now everyone is scrambling to predict an imminent rebound in home prices.

That is everyone but Robert Shiller, co-founder of the vaunted Case-Shiller home price index.

The Yale economist was one of the first to call the housing bubble. Now he is reserving judgement on whether the latest housing rebound is for real.

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Nantucket prices take a deep dive!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 7, 2012 12:54 PM

I never thought I'd see the day when the median home price on Nantucket dipped below $1 million.

Long after the real estate market began to tank in 2006, prices on the seemingly gold-plated resort island, a favorite of the corporate elite, just kept going up.

No more. The median price fell to $925,000 at the end of June, down from $1.1 million in June, 2011, reports The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

And in a sign of the times, two foreclosures were also listed for June, including a duplex at 8 Anna Drive that had last fetched nearly $1 million in 2006.

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Are you a space hog?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 6, 2012 07:14 AM

Let's face it, if you are middle class here in Greater Boston, lots of space is a luxury you probably can't afford.

No, it's not the same in many other parts of the country. One of my brothers bought a nice spacious colonial in a suburb of Chicago - a little dated but all cosmetic - for less than the $280,000 Karen and I shelled out for our Natick fixer-upper back in 2002.

If you want a big new house here in the Boston area, you are going to have to pay for it.

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Does Europe have it right on home size?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 3, 2012 08:06 AM

When it comes to home design, too often big is just plain ugly, especially with new construction.

Let's face it - we positively lust after big houses in this country, with Greater Boston no exception to the rule.

In fact, teardowns have become the primary form of new construction in a number of affluent western suburbs. Today's hot-shot, two-income professional couples apparently can't imagine finding happiness in anything less than 2,500 square feet.

It increasingly means that old capes, ranches, split levels and even colonials are getting bulldozed to make way for newer and too often bigger and uglier houses.

Compared to the rest of the world, where 1,100 square feet is considered spacious, we are definitely an outlier.

I was reminded again about how the rest of the world does things during the recent home exchange that my wife Karen and I did with a family in Quebec City.

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In Greater Boston, have buyers regained the financial edge over renters?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 2, 2012 10:22 AM

Well so contends a new report just out this morning. After years in which renting was the better financial option in the Boston area, the balance has shifted back to buying, Zillow finds.

On average, renters who opt to buy a house in the Boston area reach the break-even point after a little more than four years now, pulling away financially after that. The analysis is based not just on a comparison of home prices to local rental rates, but also includes taxes, purchase costs, appreciation and maintenance, Zillow notes.

Of course, it all depends on where you live. If you buy in Weston, where the median price is $1.3 million, it will take you more than 13 years before you hit the break-even compared to what you would have spent renting.

But you can now reach break even in just a few years in many other towns across the Greater Boston market, an area defined by Zillow as stretching out beyond I-495 to include a swath of Southern New Hampshire.

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As more trouble brews, short window for sellers

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 1, 2012 10:45 AM

You snooze, you lose.

One of my old Herald editors loved to dish out this snappy piece of advice when a competitor scooped us.

And homeowners sitting on the fence, waiting until the perfect market comes along before they take they plunge, might consider whether they too are choosing the wrong time to doze off.

Boston area home prices rose 2.4 percent in May over April, according to the latest Case-Shiller report, just released yesterday.

Year over year, prices were down .1 percent - essentially flat.

The double dip in home prices now officially appears to be over.

But prospective home sellers don't seem to have gotten the memo yet.

Too many are still sitting on the sidelines, worried about taking the plunge and driving inventory levels to record lows.

And as more trouble builds in the world economy, sellers should consider the idea that time actually may not be on their side.

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Greater Boston no hipster heaven, apparently

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 27, 2012 05:00 AM

I recently poked fun at Coldwell Banker for making Brookline No. 6 on the ten hippest places to live in the country.

Quite a few agreed, with some arguing that, with the exception of an oasis here or there in the South End and the like, we are just not very hip at all here in the Boston area.

Frankly, I'm heartbroken, having harbored delusions about Greater Boston's hipness for decades now. Just kidding, I could care less - the less hip the better, as far as I am concerned.

Here's what the rest of you had to say on the subject - it's great stuff.

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Foreign buyers - not so crazy about Boston

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 26, 2012 05:00 AM

OK, that's an exaggeration. But the Hub and its suburbs are not the top destination for overseas buyers.

A ranking of the 100 largest metro markets in the country by Trulia puts Boston at #35 in terms of interest by foreign buyers. Middlesex County, home to the western and a good part of the northern suburbs, weighs in at No. 44.

In my book, that's fairly mediocre, especially given all they hype over the years about Boston's supposedly international appeal.

I always thought we were a top destination for wealthy Middle Eastern oil princes and the like, but I guess there are more welcoming, warmer and cheaper cities to buy in.

So who's looking for homes in the Boston area?

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As Sox sink, Fenway rents soar

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 25, 2012 05:00 AM

Go figure. The Sox have their worst season in years and landlords around the ballpark decide to jack up rents.


I guess they are simply taking the lead of the Sox when it comes to pricing.

On a per-square-foot basis, asking rents in the Fenway jumped by 9 percent during the second quarter from the first three months of the year, RentJuice reports.

That even tops Back Bay, which saw a 7 percent increase.

Still, some of the increase has to do with a number of new luxury apartment high-rises opening up near the old ballpark rather than landlords jacking up rents on existing units, according to RentJuice.

The average two bedroom asking rent in the neighborhood - and in Kemore Square - is $1,913.

That, however, is still a bargain compared to Cambridge rents.

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Home prices: Bumping along the bottom?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 24, 2012 05:00 AM

That's what Zillow.com's latest home price report suggests.

The report, just released this morning, predicts Boston area prices will fall along .7 percent through the second quarter of 2013. Still, there are signs of short-term improvement, with prices having risen month over month for the past four months, though some of that probably has do to with the spring selling season.

Nationally, prices are forecast to rise 1.1 percent during the same time period.

Here's another sobering stat - 31.1 percent of all homes sold in the Boston area in June sold for a loss, according to Zillow.

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After testing market, JP seller hits a home run

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 18, 2012 06:33 AM

When we met "Josh" this spring, he was trying to figure out whether to sell a rental property in Jamaica Plain that has been in the family for decades.

The plan was to bolster his parents' retirement income through the sale of the two-family, but Josh wasn't sure whether it was the right time to sell.

The house is in a great location, between Centre Street and the Jamaica Way near an elementary school, but Josh worried that the older bathrooms and kitchens were in need of some touching up.

He had some great questions.

1. At what point in the market continuum does a home's intrinsic value (location, location, location) rise above its flaws (old kitchens and bathrooms)?
2. Is it worth trying to time the supply/demand curve to maximize our potential; or do we simply list it now and see what the market will bear?

I argued back in that he should wait - the market is on an upward trend and the pricing will only get better. (OK, given events in Europe and sluggish job growth here, I am rethinking that advice, but that's a post for another day.)

Josh was smart enough to go with his gut and test the market. As it turns out, that "test" yielded a buyer ready to pay up in a matter of days.

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Among real estate agents, Romney by a landslide

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 17, 2012 07:21 AM

Romney is a favorite among local real estate agents and brokers. A big favorite.

The former governor, our best known prodigal son, gets nearly 70 percent of the real estate vote here in Massachusetts, HomeGain reports.

Not bad for a guy who has spent the last several years trashing our great state as some sort of liberal madhouse.

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The next housing bubble?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 12, 2012 08:07 AM

Get ready to plant a for-sale sign on your lawn. Wall Street is now predicting a big surge in housing prices is right around the corner.

Analysts at JP Morgan Chase are forecasting a 12 percent jump in home prices across the country over the next four years.

Interesting prediction from a bank that just blew $5 billion in an epic trading blunder, but that's a story for another day.

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Summer slowdown? No sign of it in the sales numbers

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 11, 2012 08:05 AM

There's been a lot of speculation about a potential slowdown in home sales this summer after a roaring winter and spring.

But the latest numbers so far aren't backing the idea up.

Pending sales of homes through the end of June were up nearly 30 percent statewide over June 2011. They were also virtually unchanged from May as well, suggesting no meaningful short-term shift in momentum either, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports this morning.

All told, there were well over 5,000 pending sales in June and in May as well - the first time there have been two 5,000-plus pending sales months in a row since MAR began tracking the stat a few years ago.

It's the 14th straight month that pending sales have increased year over year, the real estate group says.

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On price, local buyers and sellers still worlds apart

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 10, 2012 08:05 AM

The vast majority of Boston area sellers believe they are getting a raw deal, with their homes significantly undervalued by the current market.

Yes, I know what you are thinking, cry me a river, but that's apparently how many local homeowners feel, reports HomeGain in its quarterly survey of local real estate agents, sellers and buyers. (I recently took at look at the national results - today I am doing the local numbers.)

Roughly 70 percent of real estate agents say their sellers believe their homes are underpriced, often by as much as 30 percent, HomeGain reports. Only 20 percent of agents say their clients are content with the price their home is listed at.

By contrast, the buyers who check out these properties online or at open houses see things quite differently. More than 80 percent of local agents say their buyers believe the homes they are seeing on the market are generally overpriced, often by as much as 20 percent, according to HomeGain.

Despite resurgence in sales activity during the first half of the year, buyers and sellers across Greater Boston remain as divided over price - and as frustrated with each other - as ever before.

So who's right here? I'm inclined to side with the buyers in this dispute, but what's your take?


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Falling inventory: Slim pickings for frustrated buyers

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 9, 2012 06:39 AM

The plunge in housing inventory across the country is one of the biggest under reported stories out there right now, Calculated Risk opines.

The number of homes and condos on the market dropped more than 24 percent across the country over the past year, the respected economics blog notes, citing stats from the DeptofNumbers.

And the Boston area is no exception. Going directly to the source, here's a nifty chart that shows the local trend. Homes and condos for sale have fallen more than 19 percent since early July 2011.

The 23,865 listings on the market represent one of the lowest levels of housing inventory over the past six years. By comparison, back in July 2006, more than 44,000 homes and condos were for sale in the Boston area.

And if anything, the inventory crunch is only going to get worse, with the market headed into its traditional summer slumber.

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My home is worth more than that!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 6, 2012 07:18 AM

Such is the indignant refrain heard across Greater Boston and country from homeowners unable to get a grip on real estate reality.

Increasingly bullish on prices, homeowners are haggling with their real estate agents over the value of homes, a new survey finds.

More than 77 percent of agents and brokers surveyed by HomeGain during the second quarter reported having disputes over homeowners believing the recommended listing price just didn't do justice to the true value of their properties.

It indicates a disturbingly high level of overconfidence, even entitlement among homeowners. And, if anything, this belief that one's house is somehow exceedingly special and can't be judged by ordinary market metrics may only be headed up given present trends.

While agents could previously point to a declining market to try get a more workable price, that task is becoming more difficult as signs point towards a turnaround in prices after years of declines.

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A summer of soaring rents?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 5, 2012 10:38 AM

Apartment rents are soaring in Greater Boston as the mercury rises.

The Boston area is getting hammered with double-digit increases in asking rents as we move into the summer months, a new report finds.

It's a field day for landlords, especially the big apartment community owners, but bad news for renters trying to make ends meet.

Rents across the metro Boston market posted a 10.3 percent, year-over-year increase through the end of June compared to the same period in 2011,Trulia reports.

That's compared to a 5.4 percent jump nationally, putting Boston in the top five, behind only San Francisco, Oakland, Denver and Miami, when it comes to rising rents. (SF is No. 1 with a whopping 14.7 percent hike.)

More importantly for Boston area renters trying to sort out their options, increases in asking rents show no signs in leveling off and have actually picked up considerable momentum since the spring.

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As market turns, home sellers get cocky

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 3, 2012 06:29 AM

It wasn't all that long ago that sellers were bemoaning the lack of serious buyers.

But with sales picking up and multiple bids becoming a fact of life now in some of the more coveted towns and neighborhoods inside Route 128, some sellers are starting to feel as if they can call the shots, notes Alex Coon, head of Redfin's Boston market office.

And one big factor bolstering this cockiness, arrogance, or whatever you want to call it, is the red hot rental market.

Sellers, especially in coveted urban neighborhoods in Cambridge and Boston, are threatening to simply pull their home or condo off the market and rent it out if a buyer fails to meet their price expectations.

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Flippers back?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 2, 2012 07:08 AM

If you are making money flipping houses, I want to hear your story.

Big-time investors are snapping up whole neighborhoods now in some of the nation's more distressed real estate markets.

Check out this article on Oakland, where more than 40 percent of foreclosures have been snapped up by investors.

The Boston area has certainly had its share of foreclosures, yet nothing along the lines of the mass distress seen during the bad old days of the housing bust in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami. (Nationwide, foreclosures made up 26 percent of sales in the first quarter, according to RealtyTrac. By comparison, foreclosures accounted for just 12 percent of all Q1 sales in Massachusetts.)

That said, there are lots of smaller, mom-and-pop operators out there, snapping up foreclosed ranch houses in Framingham or Marlborough as well distressed triple-deckers in Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan.

In fact, it's having a bigger impact on the local housing market than many realize, especially with inventory levels of unsold homes dropping.

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Six-figure salary no guarantee of housing success

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 29, 2012 08:43 AM

Here's more evidence that making $100K is definitely not what it used to be.

Check out this Bankrate piece - it details all the hits the once mighty sum of $100,000 a year has taken over the past three decades, from rising health care costs to insane leaps in home prices.

In fact, you need to pull down more than $172,000 today to enjoy the same buying power you would have had back in 1990, Bankrate notes.

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For home buyers, some advice from teachers

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 28, 2012 05:31 AM

Don't mortgage yourself to the hilt. Avoid the temptation to stretch and buy a house in an outrageously expensive suburb to get your offspring into one of the "best schools."

That's been my advice - and I'm sticking with it. Still, if nothing else it has stirred up a nice little spat on the comment board of this blog.

Here are two very different takes from a pair of readers - both are teachers and both admittedly know a whole lot more than me about the inner workings of our local schools.

Thirtysomething argues that the schools with the best reps - typically in the most expensive towns - have earned their reputation for a reason. There curriculum is so far ahead of the pack that they don't get stuck in test drilling mode that plague average districts.

But in the end, its school culture that may count the most, he argues.

By contrast, jpmur84 notes that most Massachusetts schools are a step or two above their counterparts across the country. Stop worrying about getting into a town with elite public schools and make decisions on what you can afford to buy.

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Immigrants key to housing rebound?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 27, 2012 10:13 AM
With the Baby Boom generation getting ready to sell off their big suburban homes, buyers are going to be desperately needed in the years ahead.


And one potential life saver may be new immigrants.

Here's a link to a study by Albert Saiz, a University of Pennsylvania economist, who argues that cities with rising numbers of (legal) immigrants see both home prices and rents go steadily up.

Saiz even has it down to a formula. Looking back at the housing market between 1983 and 1997, the good professor finds that housing prices rose 1.7 percent for every percentage point in population growth in a major metro area driven by new immigration.

In fact, even if the job market continues to stink, demand by new immigrants for housing will drive a recovery in home prices, while further pushing up rents, contends Gary Painter, research director at the University of Southern California's Lusk Center for Real Estate.

Here's what Painter was scheduled to say to a conference of home builders today, according to a press release sent out by the university.

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Finally, home sales back to pre-recession levels

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 26, 2012 08:17 AM

The budding comeback in homes sales has hit a new milestone.

Sales of single-family homes in Massachusetts have bounced back to levels not seen since the Great Recession sent an already declining market into a tailspin.

May home sales were up more than 27 percent in May over the same month last year, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports this morning, while The Warren Group pegs the jump at 35 percent.

But the real news is what the numbers say about the direction of the long-suffering real estate market, which finally appears to be clambering out of the deep trough it plunged into after the near global economic collapse of September 2008.

The 4,445 homes sold in May surpassed both May 2007 and May 2006 as well, when 3,884 and 4,200 homes were sold, respectively, in those months, according to a comparison of numbers from past monthly reports on the MAR website.

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Are towns with the “best schools” worth paying up for?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 25, 2012 06:39 AM

Well in my somewhat eccentric view of education, absolutely not. Paying a big premium to buy a home in a town with an elite public school system could be a big waste of your hard-earned money.

I'll take an intellectually curious child with a love of reading any day over some test-taking drone at a big name public or private school.

Sadly, it's possible to graduate today from a reputable college and be woefully ignorant when it comes to the basics of world history, science, literature and economics.

School is valuable for the socialization - learning to show up on time, follow directions, make friends and develop your social skills and personality. That can happen anywhere - your child doesn't need to go to school in a W town or at a prestigious private school to figure out that.

If you are house hunting in Greater Boston, this is far from an esoteric debate - home prices can be hundreds of thousands higher based on the competition to get into a town with highly ranked schools.

Judging by the comments on my recent post about the benefits of buying a house in an "average town," I am happy to see I am not alone in my views.

I particularly loved this comment by DCU:

It's not a choice of "send your kid to the most elite public school in Eastern MA" or "your kid is going to spend the rest of his life in prison".

Right on!

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What would you sacrifice to buy?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 22, 2012 05:33 AM

Apparently some renters say they are willing to give up quite a bit to buy their "dream home."

That's what a new survey by Century 21 Real Estate claims - obviously given the source it is somewhat self serving. That said, some of the findings are interesting.

One of the most controversial: 10 percent of renters surveyed by Harris Interactive on behalf of the real estate firm said they would cut back on contributions to their 401 (k) in order to buy the home of their real estate dreams, whatever that might be.

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Dearth of homes pushing prices up

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 21, 2012 07:52 AM

Boston has landed near the top of a list of major metro markets across the country where low inventory appears to finally driving up home prices.

Boston comes in No. 11 on the stinky inventory list, having seen the number of homes on the market drop 37 percent over the past year, as of June 19, according to a new report by Movoto Real Estate.

During the same period listing prices of home on the market in the Hub - the report doesn't seem to dip deeply into the burbs - has risen 11 percent to nearly $300,000.

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When looking at towns, sometimes average is best

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 20, 2012 06:39 AM

Sure, everyone wants the best for their children. But mortgaging yourself to the hilt to buy a rundown house in a town with "great schools" seems a dubious gift to your offspring.

Lisa's search for a half-decent house in some of the more expensive towns north of Boston sparked quite a discussion on the comment board of this blog.

Pregnant and expecting her first child in September, Lisa and her husband are yearning to leave their Melrose condo and buy a single-family.

But months of searching for a three-bedroom in Melrose, Wakefield and Andover in the low- to-mid $400,000s have yielded only frustration, with Lisa and hubby after getting outbid more than once.

Sadly, much of the advice offered to Lisa on the comment board of this blog was outright rude and in some cases downright mean as well - but believe me that will be a subject for another day.

However, sorting through all the chaff, there was this short but sweet bit of advice from ProperBostonian, who contends (rightly) that Lisa's search is too narrowly focused.

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In today's market, both buyers and sellers are worse off

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 19, 2012 06:52 AM

Check out this latest study detailing the huge wealth hit families across the country took during the Great Recession.

Median family wealth plunged 38 percent from 2007 to 2010, down to $77,300, according to a new Federal Reserve report.

While three quarters of this plunge can be attributed to the decline in housing prices, median wages dropped 7.7 percent during the same period.

In fact, for middle-income families, the drop in earning power varies even more widely from 7.7 percent all the way up to 13.6 percent.

For the average family, overall wealth has fallen back to early 1990s levels, this Times article notes.

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Mass. No. 1 for neighborhoods with most same-sex couples

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 18, 2012 09:07 AM

Welcome to the Gayborhood! That, anyway, was the somewhat tacky headline of an otherwise interesting Trulia report that recently landed in my inbox.

Trulia used census figures to track what neighborhoods across the country have the highest percentage of same-sex couples.

Massachusetts comes out with top honors. Four neighborhoods/towns landed on the top-ten list of communities with the highest percentage of same-sex female couples.

The top three neighborhoods/zip codes with the highest percentage of same-sex female couples are all in Massachusetts, with Provincetown followed by Northampton and Jamaica Plain. Wellfleet follows at No. 7.

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Frustrated Gen Y buyer blasts tough market

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 15, 2012 06:13 AM

Here's a "dispatch from the front" fired off by Lisa in Melrose, yet another frustrated buyer in Greater Boston.

She's tried everything - even making an offer on an overpriced fixer-upper in Andover hasn't worked. Her baby is due in September, but so far it looks like there will be no moving day this summer.

"We're totally discouraged. The market's cooling off and the inventory stinks," she writes from the condo in Melrose she had hoped to have moved out of by now.

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Housing market finally at bottom?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 14, 2012 06:55 AM

Well if Harvard says it, it must be true.

OK, just kidding. But Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies is not only calling a bottom to the market, but predicting a turnaround in prices as well.

Some job growth and an economy on the mend have been key in brightening the outlook for
housing so far in 2012, the report notes. (Of course, given the latest job numbers, this trend looks pretty tentative at the moment, but that's a debate for another day.)

Here's what the Harvard center's annual report on the national housing market, due for release later this morning, has to say about where prices are headed.

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Bigger is better?

Posted by Rona Fischman June 12, 2012 01:49 PM

Bill Kuhlman, CRS, who is the broker/owner of Kuhlman Residential describes how house resale prices change, based on changes in demand over many years. What kind of houses do you think will be most in demand in 20 years? 30 years?

Most of my clients, regardless of price range, have to make compromises of some sort when buying a home. Some will ask whether they should compromise on the house or on the location. That’s when I tell them the following story.

In late 2003, I started working as a buyer’s agent with an older couple---I’ll call them Ralph and Alice Moon---who had bought their home in 1974. A few minutes’ walk from Beacon Street and Cleveland Circle, they bought the 6-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom, 3,900-s.f. Brookline home for $74,000. This part of town was largely built up between 1890 and 1930. They were mostly grand homes of another era, with more than 3,000 square feet on 10,000—12,000 square-foot lots, in a picturesque area.

Their friends, Fred and Ethel Copa, bought in another part of Brookline that same year. This area was mostly built up after World War II and the homes and lots there were more modest in size and scope. They more closely resembled the then-modern concept of suburban life, where you lived away from the hustle and bustle of city life in a home that looked a lot like your neighbors’, and drove pretty much wherever you needed to go.

Having just gone through the Energy Crisis of 1973, people were becoming concerned with home heating costs, so the modest square footage and lower ceilings in Fred and Ethel’s house were seen as a big plus compared to the turn-of-the century energy hogs in Ralph and Alice’s neighborhood, with their extra bedrooms, open staircases, and 10-foot ceilings. So they bought their four-bed, 2-bath abode for $67,000, a mere bag of shells ($7,000) less than the cost of Ralph and Alice’s dinosaur.

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Gen Y buyers too demanding?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 12, 2012 06:54 AM

Every generation gets tarred with some sort of ridiculous label that often has little bearing on reality.

Boomers were supposedly self indulgent, Xers were ridiculed as slackers and now Gen Y finds itself cast as self-entitled brats who expect the world on a silver platter.

Heck, even the so-called Greatest Generation had their doubters before World War II came along.

Of course, this all plays out in the real estate market, where the wariness of younger buyers towards major financial commitments has been ridiculed on the comment board of this blog as some sort of sign of self entitlement.

But luckily we have james-in-cambridge to set things straight.

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Generation couch surfer?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 11, 2012 07:02 AM

Given the dire financial plight many in Gen Y now find themselves in, the future of the real estate market looks pretty rocky.

Check out this Globe story that ran Sunday on the steep decline among homeowners and buyers in the crucial 25-34 age category.

Massachusetts has seen a 20 percent decline from 2005 to 2010 in young homeowners, who account for about a third of the market, the story notes, citing US Census figures.

In fact, just getting into the rental market, let alone buying a home, would be a big step up for many members of Gen Y, who have been driven back home to live with mom and dad in the face of a brutal economy intent on eating its young.

An incredible number of young men and women in the 18-34 age group are still living at home or have returned after college - it amounts to roughly 40 percent, according to a recent Pew survey.

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Hire a good real estate agent!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 8, 2012 07:07 AM

It's tough out there for buyers in Greater Boston, separating the wheat from the chaff.

There are too many fixer-uppers, with bidding wars on the small minority of homes that are well priced and well maintained.

So what's a poor buyer to do?

Well maybe hire a good real estate agent for starters.

This is heresy to the regulars on the comment board of this blog, who have made a sport of ridiculing their personal Great Satan, the National Association of Realtors and affiliate organizations.

Of course there is a lot to poke fun at, but let's get real here.

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Condos now tops in price

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 7, 2012 10:00 AM

It's more expensive now to buy a condo here in Massachusetts than a single-family home.

If that is surprising to you, it certainly was to me when I took another look at the most recent price report by The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

The median price of a condo in Massachusetts rose to $280,000 in April, up 3.5 percent from April 2011.

That's a good $5,000 above the median price for a home here in Massachusetts, which stood at $275,000 in April.

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Grumpy buyers

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 6, 2012 10:28 AM

OK, the buyers are out there and buying as the busiest spring market in years draws to a close.

But they are not always happy with the choices, especially here in still over-priced Greater Boston, home of the $800,000 teardown and $1 million-plus fixer-upper.

Redfin just surveyed home buyers across the country, including here in the Boston area.

And surprise, surprise, the biggest gripe was a lack of decent inventory.

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It's all about the jobs

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 5, 2012 10:02 AM

Without more job growth, home prices are likely to continue to stagnate.

That's the common sense verdict of Jed Kolko, Trulia's chief economist, of signs that recent home prices gains across the country are starting fizzle along with new job growth. Kolko's comments come as Trulia puts out its latest home price and rental rate report this morning.

The areas that are starting to see signs of a price turnaround, he notes, are those with more robust job markets. (Don't have the Boston numbers yet - the Trulia numbers just hit the wires at 10 a.m.)

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Does Europe scare you?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 4, 2012 06:31 AM

Just when it looked like we were finally out of the woods, the European debt crisis decides to finally blow.

Signs of an improving economy have driven the recent upsurge in home sales and even signs that a turnaround in prices might be forthcoming.

But the good news is starting to fizzle out, with the debt crisis in Europe looking like a potential repeat of 2008 and the number of new jobs being created in the U.S. on a pretty clear decline.

Here in Massachusetts, our local economy and real estate market has fared better than most.

Yet we are hardly a self-sufficient island here, immune to the economic woes of the rest of the world.

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Without big bucks, are hip urban neighborhoods worth it?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 1, 2012 06:05 AM

Life can be pretty good in the Back Bay if you have the kind of money to buy Tom and Giselle's $10.5 million Back Bay crash pad.

If that's too rich for your wallet, breaking a million just might get you something half decent, but no guarantees.

But is it worth it trying to squeeze into a closet-sized condo in the Back Bay - or for that matter the South End or Beacon Hill - if you can't go above $500,000, let alone $1 million?

That's the world shaking question Trulia explores in an in-depth blog post on the Boston market.

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Along 495, home prices collapse

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 31, 2012 06:33 AM

Looking for a bargain? Head west to 495.

I compared home prices along Greater Boston's two great technology and commercial beltways, 128 and 495 for a column I do for the Globe West, Forever 128.

Along 128, Burlington, with a median price of nearly $400,000, is closing on its 2005 price peak, while Weston, at $1.4 million, has surpassed its previous high-water mark of $1.3 million set that same year.

Other 128 towns such as Newton, Needham and Lexington all saw median prices drop this past year, yet all are within 10 percent of the highs reached during the height of the housing bubble in 2005-2006.

But along 495, it's a much different story.

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Victimized by the housing bubble?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 30, 2012 06:54 AM

Is is time to bequeath our society's greatest honor - that of aggrieved victim - to homeowners who bought during the housing bubble?

Apparently some on the comment board of this blog think so now.

It can tend to be a pretty conservative bunch, so I was a bit surprised by this sally.

Here's what thirtysomething had to say:

The underwater homeowners are exactly what I'm talking about! They were VICTIMIZED by high housing prices. You seem to think this is a good thing -- so good, in fact, that we need more of the same to "rescue" them? Not saying that is impossible, but that's simply passing the hot potato (and high costs) to a new victim.

As for those retirees, go ahead and cry me a river! If they are long-time homeowners, they've already seen a terrific ROI. You want to reinflate prices so they can suck the life blood of the younger generations to pad their retirements?

High real estate prices are bad for society. Good for banks, bad for everybody else (aside from those seeking to profit at the expense of others).

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Homeowners now better off than renters?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 29, 2012 06:35 AM

Half of all apartment dwellers nationwide are now "rent burdened."

That means they are coughing up 30 percent or more of their income for rent, finds a new report by the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute.

By comparison, the number of homeowners shelling out 30 percent or more of their paychecks on mortgage payments stands at a much lower 37.4 percent.

In fact, the number of homeowners struggling under heavier mortgage payments is about the same as it was before the recession, according to the study, which analyzed housing data from 2007-2010.

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For underwater homeowner, tough choices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 25, 2012 08:58 AM

Stuck in an underwater condo in East Boston he is weary of, Beantown-dan is groping desperately for an escape hatch.

He figures he can now finally afford a modest home in the suburbs, but can't easily get out from under the mortgage on his Eastie condo, which is $20,000 to $30,000 above the current market value of his unit.

Beantown-dan is thinking of renting out his condo and then trying to buy - which might get him out of his current jam but would put him on the hook for even more real estate debt.

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Are you underwater?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 24, 2012 07:00 AM

If you owe more on your mortgage than your house is worth, you are hardly alone, even here in perpetually price-inflated Greater Boston.

Just over one in five Boston area homeowners - 22 percent - were underwater on their mortgages as of the end of the first quarter in March, Zillow.com reports.

Moreover, about half were underwater by 20 percent or less, with the rest buried under even heavier loads of debt, that, at the very extreme, is double what their homes are worth.

The suburbs just to the west and southwest of Boston - that broad arc from Burlington down through Foxboro - have the least number of underwater homeowners, according to Zillow.

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She hates the burbs!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 23, 2012 08:45 AM

What's your choice: Sticks or city living?

I'll let Twirlygirl get the debate going this morning. She and her husband have one child and love living in the city. Even as bargain prices beckon from the 495 belt and beyond, she's determined to wait until they find the right place in Boston or Cambridge.

For Twirlygirl, it's a matter of sanity and even of being able to be "good mom."

The suburbs, with few exceptions, fill me with ennui. I would be rather miserable and wouldn't be a good mom if I was living too far out, far from the ability to get into the city, far from what feels like being alive. My husband mostly feels the same way.

No mincing words there.


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Buyer alert: Rising prices ahead

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 22, 2012 05:52 AM

We are primed for a home price turnaround in Greater Boston and across Massachusetts.

And we are not talking about 2013 or some other distant year in the future, but the next several months.

That's the verdict from Tim Warren, chief executive of The Warren Group, after the release this morning of home sales and price numbers for April by his Boston-based real estate data firm and publisher.

Warren points to the combo of falling unemployment and rock bottom interest rates as the key factor behind the budding rebound.

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Ban teardowns?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 21, 2012 05:38 AM

The number of modest capes, split levels and even colonials getting bulldozed is on the rise in Greater Boston's more affluent suburbs.

Here's a pretty interesting take from a West Newton architect in the heart of teardown country, which recently appeared as a letter to the editor in the Globe.

The architect, Anatol Zuckerman would like to see teardowns replaced with multifamily housing, though to be fair, he doesn't exactly call for a teardown ban. (In fact, he makes some great observations on why it is so difficult to get towns to face up to this issue.)

Still, it's an issue that is of far greater importance than simply to the buyers with the bucks for the $1 million-plus homes that are replacing all these more modest 1950s and 60s homes.

After all, the Boston area has long suffered from a shortage of decent, reasonably priced middle-class housing and it is a trend that is only getting worse.

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Coaxing sellers off the fence

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 18, 2012 08:44 AM

How things have changed. Real estate brokers who spent years trying to drum up scarce buyers are now having to sweet talk reluctant sellers into listing their homes.

The buyers are definitely out there again this spring, both here in Greater Boston and in other major metro markets across the country.

But buyers are looking for a bargain. They sense the price declines won't go on forever, yet they also want something decent for their money. And with many potential sellers still skittish and unwilling to take the plunge, there has been a growing mismatch between demand and supply.

Check out this BloombergBusinessweek article - it looks at the seller shortage across the country and how it is driving bidding wars for ready-to-move-into homes that are reasonably priced.

Locally, bidding wars out now the norm in Cambridge, Newton and Lexington, notes Redfin in this blog post that went up yesterday.

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Sure beats condo living

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 17, 2012 06:35 AM

That's how Jonathan in Millbury feels about his decision to buy in Central Massachusetts.

After all, he works as a project management consultant in Kendall Square and could have easily settled for a condo in the Boston area.

But instead, he's now living his version of the American Dream in a three bedroom, 1,500-square-foot ranch he bought for the low $200,000s in 2007, complete with a "nice level yard with woods."

After reading my recent post on bargain towns below $200,000, Jonathan fired off an email asking why I had left out Millbury. (No slight, just missed it as I was looking over median price records.)

Sure, I could have purchased a condo in the Boston area. But I don't see the value of living in a condo and paying a condo fee. I like having a yard and taking care of my home. And my neighbors are awesome.

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Deluded buyers to blame?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 16, 2012 07:15 AM

That's the latest theory on what caused the housing bubble - and it makes a certain sense.

A new Boston Fed paper takes aim at the profusion of studies and documentaries that try to pin the blame for the housing bubble on the machinations of a few greedy Wall Street types. (Thanks gmbc for pointing this one out.)

Instead, it was the average buyer, borrowing to the hilt and beyond to grab a house in the belief that prices would just keep on going up, who drove the runaway prices of the bubble years, the Fed paper suggests.

It's certainly a provocative theory - and one very current now as the real estate market starts to recover and prices in some of Greater Boston's more affluent suburbs head up again.

In fact, for all those who are feeling a bit optimistic again - including me - the Fed researchers offer a very timely warning at the end.

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Bargain towns below $100,000

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 15, 2012 08:48 AM

There are actually a few towns in Massachusetts where you can now buy a home for less than six figures.

In a state where the median price remains a lofty $267,500, this handful of communities stands out.

The question is not whether you could get a relative bargain, but whether it's worth rolling the dice.

Buying in some of these communities could be a gamble - a few are struggling with major problems, such as the crippling loss of old industries or school systems beset with major challenges.

Yet the same could be said of many areas that are now considered hot spots in the local real estate market. There are a whole bunch of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville neighborhoods that a few decades were anything but hot.

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Bargain towns under $200,000

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 14, 2012 08:37 AM

Yes, even in high-priced Massachusetts, you can buy a house now for under $200,000.

In many parts of the country where housing has long been more affordable, this would hardly be worth the notice. After all, the median price nationally is $158,100, and falling.

But here in the Bay State, with prices on the rise again in the more affluent Greater Boston suburbs and in coveted or hip urban locales, all in Boston or Cambridge, it is worth remembering that we are dealing with two very different real estate markets here.

Beyond the gilded burbs, prices have fallen a lot steeper and continue to erode.

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Bargain towns below $250,000

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 11, 2012 05:48 AM

If you want a bargain in overpriced Greater Boston, you have to look where the real estate downturn has hit the hardest.

While some of the more affluent western suburbs, as well as a few of the more picturesque towns on the North and South Shores, are seeing prices rise again, that's not the case in many of their less glamorous neighbors.

There are lots of towns now where a house can be had for less than $300,000, I noted yesterday. And while there are fewer members of the under $250,000 club, they are out there - often small industrial cities in the midst of transition or small towns that are a little rough around the edges.

I thought dreston78 put it well in his comment yesterday.

I realize no one wants to live in Brockton, Worcester, Haverhill, Methuen, Lawrence or Lowell (except for the hundreds of thousands of people that actually do) but those are some markets that have been crushed by the bursting of the bubble. A decent home can be had for under $200,000 in anyone of those areas and plenty of new/newer construction in the $300K to $350K range.

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Bargain towns below $300,000

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 10, 2012 06:48 AM

Weary of looking at worn out, overpriced homes selling for half a million or more?

The good news is that it's still possible to buy below $300,000, with a whole bunch of towns and neighborhoods with prices in the $200,000s now.

But they are not in the the posh burbs and hip urban neighborhoods everyone is beating down the door to get into - and which have seen prices relentlessly rise right through the downturn.

And more often than not, you may end up with a tougher commute - and a fair amount of fixing up to do as well.

But then again, you won't find yourself saddled with a $500,000 mortgage either.

Here's my list, drawn from the real estate records of Banker & Tradesman. Today we'll tackle the suburbs, tomorrow the world. Just kidding, next week I will look at bargain-basement urban alternatives for those frustrated with Davis Square and other overpriced, over-hyped neighborhoods.

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Buyers, what's your bottom line number?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 9, 2012 06:48 AM

If you don't have a bottom line number and you are house hunting here in Greater Boston, get one and get one fast.

By bottom line number, I mean a number or threshold price that you won't go beyond, at least without some very serious consideration and, if you are married or in a couple, some hard-fought debate.

Sure, everyone can benefit from this, but having a budget and sticking to it is especially important here in the Boston area. After years of tough times, it remains one of the most overpriced housing markets in the country.

So what does that mean? Well if you are in that broad range of middle-income buyers, you are always going to be tempted to stretch in order to get a more palatable house.

After all, the options for middle-income buyers looking in the $300,000-to-$400,000 range, especially inside the 128 beltway, are not likely to blow anyone away.

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A breakout spring market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 8, 2012 06:35 AM

Certainly seems so from the latest numbers.

Pending home sales surged more than 35 percent in April compared to the year before, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports this morning.

A total of 4,784 homes were put under agreement in April, meaning there should be a sizable sales jump when those deals close in June and July.

Still, there are always reasons to be cautious, something the numerous housing bears on the comment board will be happy to hear me say.

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Goodbye middle-income suburbs?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 7, 2012 05:56 AM

Teardowns are back.

After stalling during the Great Recession, teardowns are on the rise again in some of Greater Boston's more affluent suburbs.

Wellesley, Needham, Newton and Lexington have all seen a jump in teardowns over the past year of older, more modestly-sized homes, I report in a Globe West story that ran yesterday.

Needham appears to be leading the charge, with 82 last year, compared to 58 in 2009.

And it is a trend that has big implications for middle-income buyers trying to get a foothold in one of the country's most expensive housing markets.

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Latest forecast: Rising prices, rising rents

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 4, 2012 05:15 AM

So says Trulia, which has jumped into the potentially risky business of predicting future price and rent trends.

While most of the major housing indexes track past sales, and as a result lag the market by months, Trulia contends that tracking asking prices and asking rents can offer a window to where the market in headed in two or three months.

The theory is what sellers and landlords are asking for now will end up being reflected in sales and leases in the next quarter. (Check out this Calculated Risk post on Trulia's approach, which does a great job laying it all out.)

If that's the case, then we could soon be moving from price deflation to price increases here in the Boston area, and possibly even double digit rent increases by year end.

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Is price king?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 3, 2012 05:52 AM

Certainly seems so based on Lauren's effort to unload her three-bedroom cape in South Weymouth for $309,000.

I recently blogged here about Lauren's struggles to find a buyer - she's been getting lots of traffic but no offers since she put her home on the market in February.

I suggested she replace the ugly mustard colored carpet and the advice flooded in on the comment board.

So much for that. While there were others in the cosmetic camp, the comment board was overwhelmed with suggestions that Lauren lower her price.

Instead of $310,000, she should be looking at $270,000 or $280,000, suggested fu1eye.

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More homes hitting the market

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 2, 2012 06:24 AM

This spring has seen a flood of homes hitting the market in Greater Boston.

Like the recent rains, it is a badly needed inundation for a parched real estate landscape dominated by overpriced homes in need of work. It's still tough out there, but at least there are more homes to check out.

So where to look?

Suffolk County, which is mainly Boston and a couple inner suburbs/cities, saw the biggest inventory bump, rising 35.6 percent, Redfin notes.

Middlesex County, which includes the western suburbs, came in a close second, with a 32.6 percent rise in listings in March.

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Still believe in homeownership?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 1, 2012 06:39 AM

We are back to the 1990s when it comes to homeownership.

Nationally, the percentage of homeowners has dropped from a high of more than 69 percent in the early 2004 down to 65.4 percent at the end of the first quarter, Bloomberg News reports.

It's the lowest since 1997. And it appears to be an accelerating trend - the homeownership rate has dropped a full percentage point over the last year alone. When it comes to statistics, that qualifies as a plunge, not just a drop.

In fact, experts are predicting continued declines for the rest of this decade - at the current pace that could push the homeownership rate below 60 percent by 2020.

Yet despite the gloomy national numbers, this is one trend Massachusetts is bucking.

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Sell now or wait?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 30, 2012 06:26 AM

That's the dilemma "Josh" in Jamaica Plain is grappling with right now.

He and his siblings own a two-family in JP they want to sell in order to bolster their parents' retirement income.

The house is in a great location between Centre Street and the Jamaica Way across from an elementary school.

Josh acknowledges the house is older and needs a little touching up, but hopes that rising demand in a relatively hot market like JP will encourage buyers to open their wallets anyway.

So should he list now or wait?

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Frustrated seller tells all

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 27, 2012 06:07 AM

For all the talk about bidding wars, for many sellers, it's still a tough market out there.

Yes, the open houses are bustling and there are clearly more people out there looking around this spring. And sales are up markedly, as I noted here a couple days ago.

But many houses are still sitting, drawing interest, but no offers, as one would-be seller in South Weymouth is finding out.

Lauren bought bought her three bedroom Cape back in 2008 for $300,000 and is now looking to sell for $309,000.

Even then, she will still be in the red, having pumped an estimated $25,000 into various upgrades, from renovating the bathroom to new windows and a new heating system.

Here's a link to the house. It comes with a good yard - a half acre, which is unusual for South Weymouth, Lauren notes.

Yet while there is no lack of traffic since she put her house on the market in February - Lauren's getting ready for her seventh open house this weekend - there have been no offers yet.

And Lauren finds herself wondering whether it's the price that's the culprit right now, or the ugly, mustard colored carpet on the second floor that came with the house.

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What does it cost to be economically independent in Massachusetts?

Posted by Rona Fischman April 26, 2012 02:09 PM

I frequently talk to young parents who are daunted by their inability to get into the real estate market. Even with dropping prices and low interest rates, the prospect of saving for a down payment and paying our still-inflated prices seems impossible. It shouldn’t be this way, they say, we are earning a lot of money, but it just doesn’t go far enough. They have a professional income, or two, but they feel far from rich.

Whether you are a renter or an owner, the greater Boston area is a very hard place to live, economically. Housing has a big part in that. What does it say about an area, when $91,600 is our area median household income (AMI)? What does it mean for people who are starting out? For those that are looking toward retirement? For those that find themselves unemployed or under-employed? What does it mean to you, in dollars and cents?

Crittenton’s Women’s Union has developed a tool to calculate what income a family needs to make ends meet. Around here, the Economic Independence level is rather high, compared with many places in the country. Try it.

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Have prices hit bottom?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 26, 2012 09:11 AM

OK, calling a bottom to the now years-long decline in home prices is risky business.

Eventually someone will get it right, but predicting an imminent turnaround in prices is more likely to leave you looking like a fool rather than some market sage.

Yet the predictions keep coming, with Zillow.com the latest to roll the dice.

Zillow contends Boston area home prices hit bottom in the first quarter. Better yet, Zillow sees a .3 percent rise in prices over the next year.

That comes after a painful decline of more than 2 percent over the past year, with the Zillow Home Value Index for the Boston area now just over $300,000. (Zillow looks not just at sale prices, but also assessed values.)

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Bidding wars the norm now?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 25, 2012 06:43 AM

At least for homes attractive enough or priced right to get an offer, yes, multiple offers may very well be the new norm.

That's what Redfin contends it is seeing in Greater Boston. Roughly 54 percent of the homes Redfin agents wrote offers on in March wound up "in bidding wars with prices literally rising before our agents' and clients' very eyes," the online real estate brokerage reports in its Boston Sweet Digs blog.

Of course, we are hardly talking about every home on the market - these are houses that had enough going for them to get at least one offer.

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Real estate downturn over?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 24, 2012 06:38 AM

Home sales rose by more than 19 percent in March compared to last spring, The Warren Group reports this morning.

But even more significantly, it was the best March, and the best first quarter as well, in terms of overall home sales in Massachusetts since the spring of 2007, before the Great Recession hit.

So is it time to declare victory and break out the champagne? Are the hard times in real estate finally at an end?

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Are bidding wars making you want to jump off a ledge?

Posted by Rona Fischman April 23, 2012 02:08 PM

I stand with Meliss173 who is tired of our arm-chair experts who think that there are no bidding wars and agents are duping silly buyers into paying too much with phantom offers. Yes, there are some phantoms. I try to arm buyers against such games.

There was a supply shortage last year, and there is one again this year.
It is unhelpful to buyers in the current market to deny the reality of the low supply and high demand on reasonable housing for a family within a half hour commute of Boston. Whenever the subject is broached, the parade of bears starts screaming that prices need to go down. Well, furry ones, price is not going to go down when there is a low supply and a high demand. The shadow inventory is not the inventory that young families want or need.

My company is keeping a list of MLS numbers of house and condos that we, personally, knew had bidding wars. When everything closes, we’ll put it together as a report for our clients. I intend to do one for BREN, too. If you want me to track a particular house, send me the MLS number. Please title your email “BREN bidding war.” I will wait until sometime in July, when things slow down, and check all the sales information on these so-called “hot houses.”

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More sellers getting into game?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 23, 2012 07:06 AM

More homes are getting snapped amid the best spring market since the Great Recession. And sellers in Boston's western suburbs are jumping back into the market after staying clear for years.

That's what Redfin's Boston team recently found when it tallied the inventory of homes for sale this spring in Middlesex County.

The number of listings in the county, which straddles some of the wealthiest burbs in the country, is up 30 percent over last March.

Of course, the upsurge in sales, which rose more than 26 percent in February, is what has revived hope among sellers depressed after years of a dead or declining market.

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Frustrated buyers have their say

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 20, 2012 06:14 AM

Tired of being all but being called chumps on the comment board of this blog, some buyers are pushing back.

We all know the Greater Boston market is not an easy one to get a foothold in, especially if you are looking in the $250,000 to $400,000 range.

That said, there are still many solid reasons to buy instead of rent, especially if you are looking to start a family and plan to stay put for a reasonable amount of time. Conventional thinking is five years, though I'd argue at least a decade.

If you want to keep renting, go right ahead, that's great. But while it may be challenging to buy in the Boston area, don't give up on that option if that is what you want to do.

If you a $400,000-and-below buyer, and you want to stay near or within the 128 beltway, I can all but guarantee that you are not going to find your dream home. That said, there is no reason you can't find a house you can be happy with or at least has potential.

However, meliss173 argued the case much more eloquently than I am doing right now in a series of recent comments.

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Open houses waste of time?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 19, 2012 07:01 AM

It's something to consider, especially with the National Association of Realtors going all out to promote its annual open house weekend on April 28-29.

If you are a seller getting pressured by your agent to take part, you might want to think it over.

Open houses are ostensibly for the benefit of sellers. But sadly for sellers, the open house can be a high pain, small gain proposition.

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Still worried about your job?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 18, 2012 06:49 AM

If you are looking at a home or selling one, and keeping one eye nervously trained on your job, you are not alone.

Yes, the economy is picking up, but anxiety about the job market is still fairly strong out in the real estate market, a new survey finds.

The vast majority of buyers and sellers across the state are either still mildly or seriously concerned about job loss, according to a monthly survey of market sentiment by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

Sixty-one percent of Realtors polled said their clients, both buyers and sellers, were mildly worried, while 30 percent still have significant concerns.

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Back to 1990s prices?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 17, 2012 06:21 AM

Check out this Calculated Risk post on what's really happened with home prices.

The major real estate indexes - Case-Shiller and CoreLogic to name two - have been reporting that prices are back to 2002 and 2003 levels.

But account for inflation, and home prices in real terms have dropped all the way to 1998-2000 levels, Calculated Risk finds.

Basically, all the home price gains piled up during the reckless 2000s have vanished!

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Buyers aren't chumps!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 16, 2012 06:26 AM

The idea that buyers are chumps, easily conned into blowing hundreds of thousands on overpriced homes by slick real estate agents, is remarkably patronizing.

Yet it is a theme sounded all too often on the comment board for this blog by some otherwise very sharp and insightful observers of the Greater Boston real estate market.

This is probably one of the toughest real estate markets in the country for middle class buyers to get a foothold in.

There are simply too many people with fairly decent incomes vying for a limited pool of overpriced, run down homes.

It was true a decade ago in the Boston market and it is true today, despite all the dramatic changes we have seen in the economy and in real estate in general over the last several years.

Buyers braving the market in the Boston area deserve empathy - not ridicule. Yes, real estate can be a racket, but why pick on poor buyers?

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Buyers aren't chumps!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 16, 2012 06:26 AM

The idea that buyers are chumps, easily conned into blowing hundreds of thousands on overpriced homes by slick real estate agents, is remarkably patronizing.

Yet it is a theme sounded all too often on the comment board for this blog by some otherwise very sharp and insightful observers of the Greater Boston real estate market.

This is probably one of the toughest real estate markets in the country for middle class buyers to get a foothold in.

There are simply too many people with fairly decent incomes vying for a limited pool of overpriced, run down homes.

It was true a decade ago in the Boston market and it is true today, despite all the dramatic changes we have seen in the economy and in real estate in general over the last several years.

Buyers braving the market in the Boston area deserve empathy - not ridicule. Real estate can certainly be a racket, but why pick on poor buyers?

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At these rents, why not buy?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 13, 2012 06:17 AM


Renting is hot now. But the choices and prices available for renters still lag significantly compared to what's available on the for-sale market.

Boston area rents jumped another 6 percent in the first quarter, RentJuice reports.

That brings the average asking rent in Boston, Cambridge and the inner suburbs to $2,332 for a two bedroom apartment.

That's a pretty decent sized mortgage payment, all for a two bedroom. It's about what I pay in Natick for my modestly sized, four bedroom fixer-upper. And I have a home office on the second floor and a potential spare bedroom on the first floor, which just might come in handy someday given the ways things are going right now with my elderly parents.

You can do a lot with 1,800 square feet, if you can configure it the way you want it - something you can do if you are a homeowner, not a renter.

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Bidding wars: Hype or reality?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 12, 2012 05:57 AM

I'd argue it's a bit of both, but let's check out some numbers.

Just looking at Boston, the number of homes going under agreement in three days or less has steadily fallen over the past three months, Redfin reports.

Roughly 10 percent of homes that have hit the market this spring in the Hub have gone under agreement in three days or less.

That's down from an earlier Redfin estimate from late March, which pegged the number at 15 percent.

Moreover, the trend appears to be a downward one, with just 6 percent of homes that hit the market in Boston in the month ending April 12 getting scooped up in 72 hours.

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Revenge of the zombie homes?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 11, 2012 06:42 AM

If you have ever gone house hunting in Greater Boston, you know what I am talking about.

These are dingy homes in need of all sorts of work, listed at prices that anywhere else in the country would command a half decent split-level or even colonial.

And they are zombies because they have been kicking around for years, coming on and off the market in thinly disguised attempts to mask the fact that no one out there is biting.

I am sure there are more than a few that came back on the market this spring as new listings, having been pulled over the winter.

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A tale of two cities

Posted by Rona Fischman April 10, 2012 02:09 PM

Here's Bill Kuhlman, CRS, who is the broker/owner of Kuhlman Residential with a market graph he found interesting.

I want to share one of my favorite graphs I’ve seen in a while. It tracks the home value histories for Boston and Miami between 1990 and 2011. (Boston is in red; Miami is in blue.) What I like about it is that it illustrates the reality versus what I believe is a commonly held perception of the Boston real estate market over the past ten years.

The graph tracks the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)’s monthly house pricing index (HPI) for the two cities. According to the current info on Wikipedia, “The HPI is a weighted, repeat-sales index, meaning that it measures average price changes in repeat sales or refinancings on the same properties in 363 metropolises. This information is obtained by reviewing repeat mortgage transactions on single-family properties whose mortgages have been purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.”

The Case-Shiller Index, often touted as perhaps the most accurate house pricing index out there, uses a modified version of this type of index.

Before anyone accuses me of cherry-picking my data, I want to point out that this graph is plucked from a presentation I saw recently. I didn’t look at all kinds of HPI comparisons between Boston and other cities, choose the one that best makes my point, then make a graph out of it.

What it shows is that from the first quarter of 1990 through the first quarter of 2004, the HPIs for Boston and Miami are very similar, never deviating from one another by more than maybe $20,000 or $25,000. And the two lines are virtually on top of one another between 1991 and 2000.

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Rising prices ahead?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 10, 2012 05:46 AM

Pending home sales soared nearly 39 percent in March.

A total of 4,519 homes were put under agreement last month, up sharply from 3,256 last March, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports.

The number of condos put under agreement was also up more than 30 percent over March 2011, hitting 1,854.

This surge in activity begs the obvious question: Will prices be headed up soon as well?

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Facing multiple bids?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 9, 2012 07:08 AM

Bidding wars are back, and not just in Greater Boston, but in other markets across the country.

Just ask the Hensleys, who felt compelled to include a family portrait along with their $270,000 bid for a three-bedroom home in suburban Seattle. In fact, they also included a letter describing how the house, which backs into a wooded hillside, would be perfect for their growing family, BloombergBusinessweek reports.

They even threw in $10,000 more than the asking price. Here's a quote from the Hensleys, which I have lifted from the story.

"We understand there is going to be fierce competition in the offers made for your house but Carina and I both felt very strong about letting you know what it would mean to us if we were given the opportunity to live in your gorgeous and charming house," wrote Matthew Hensley, 33, a credit union branch manager whose wife is a dental hygienist.

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Landlords too greedy?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 5, 2012 10:10 AM

Asking rents in the Boston area jumped a whopping 9.2 percent during the first quarter over early 2011, Trulia reports.

Hub apartment owners didn't quite lead the nation in their zeal to cash in, but they came close, with asking rents jumping 12.1 percent in Miami in 11.1 percent in San Francisco.

It is a wallop to the wallet of local renters that comes even as home sellers in the Boston area finally get a firmer grip on reality.

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Suburbs a bore?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 4, 2012 06:37 AM

Meet Franksmartin, an unabashed cheerleader for living the life in hip urban neighborhoods like Davis Square.

When I knocked the idea of paying hundreds of thousands more to live in Davis or Cambridge as opposed to Quincy or Medford, Franksmartin, who lives in Porter Square, was ready with his zinger.

If I think it is nuts to blow money just to live with the hipsters, he thinks it's crazy to squander your money to live in some suburban bore-fest.

Now I like my Natick fixer-upper and the fact that I can walk with my kids to the center of town, which has come a long way over the past few years. It's a long way from boring.

But I'll concede that it's far from hip.

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To insure, or not to insure

Posted by Rona Fischman April 3, 2012 02:02 PM

Bill Kuhlman, CRS, who is the broker/owner of Kuhlman Residential wants your opinion on a policy idea.

And now for something completely different: I wanted to give readers of this blog the opportunity to potentially influence the shaping of public policy, during the early stages of discussion of an issue.

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors (MAR), in conjunction with Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, is looking into the question of whether or not it would be a good idea or a bad idea for Massachusetts to follow the lead of some other states and make it possible for homeowners to purchase home value insurance, also known as home price protection insurance. This type of policy would pay a homeowner if they are forced to sell their homes for less than they owe. Some pay if the homeowner sells for less than they paid.

These policies have been offered in Ohio for a couple of years, and have received mixed reviews. Different policies offer different levels of premiums and benefits, but the basic idea is if you sell your home for less than you owe or paid, the policy will pay a pre-determined percentage of your loss. The higher that percentage, or the longer the period of coverage, the higher the total cost of your premiums. I don’t know many of the details, but they come with a time-related deductible, to reduce attempts to game the system.

Here are some questions the people who will eventually make recommendations to legislators and other policy makers might want to know:

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Love at first sight?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 3, 2012 07:08 AM

It works in the movies. But it's a bad idea in real life, especially when it comes to buying a home.

The last thing you want to do is lead with emotion when making a major financial decision.

But that's not what all those perky real estate brokers out there want you to do - they want you to get all warm and fuzzy and forget about the numbers just long enough to get hooked.

So it's hardly a shocker to see Coldwell Banker releasing a survey that plays up the idea that buyers are leading with their hearts instead of their brains.

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Why pay a premium for hipness?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 30, 2012 06:46 AM

Ah, the hipness premium. Seems downright dumb and shallow to me, but I am clearly in the minority given the silly amounts of money people are willing to blow to live in a trendy neighborhood.

Take a mediocre condo or house in need of work, plunk it down in JP, Davis Square, Cambridge, or the South End, and suddenly you are talking big bucks.

But is that cramped two-bedroom really worth hundreds of thousands of more because it is in Davis Square instead of Quincy, or the South End instead of Medford?

Artiefufkin hit it on the head with this comment on my post on buying for the long haul.

"Something I've noticed about the Boston area real-estate market is that the premium for hipness seems to be irrationally high," he writes. "It simply isn't rational to pay an extra $200k for a condo simply so that you can walk to cool restaurants rather than having to drive 10 minutes or take a 10 minute subway ride."


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Better take the long view

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 29, 2012 08:43 AM

Don't want to get burned by real estate?

Well then you'd better take the long view - and be a little big savvy about when you buy and sell as well.

Here's an enlightening comment from MWK, who made out like a bandit in the South End after buying in the mid 80s and then selling two decades later in 2004.

He then took his profits and bought a home in Quincy as the real estate bubble neared its peak.

Now MWK's friends are all bemoaning his bad luck.

After all, the numbers don't look good for Quincy, with single-family sales having dropped 10 percent so far this year and prices by 13 percent, to a median price of $282,375, The Warren Group reports.

But MWK is confident - he's in it for the long haul.

"I'm not saying my house will be a cash machine in a year from now, but I'll sell it eventually at a profit, I'm pretty confident of that," MWK writes.

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Don't be fooled by falling prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 28, 2012 05:46 AM

OK, it's time to stop hyperventilating over every decline in home prices as a harbinger of doom.

Yes, the long climb down in prices has been a central feature of our nation's now years-long housing market swoon.

But  the double dip in home prices that began in 2010 - and appears to be continuing into this year - is finally igniting long dormant sales.

Take a look at these two numbers.

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Park your money here?

Posted by Rona Fischman March 27, 2012 12:13 PM

Bill Kuhlman, CRS, who is the broker/owner of Kuhlman Residential looks at real estate investment and stock investment for the long haul.

Two weeks ago, I compared the total return on investment between three stock indices and median sale prices between January, 2000, and March, 2012. Last week I reported on the performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) versus the rise in the median price of U.S. homes between 1970 and 2010.

The bottom line is that the DJIA closed 13.03 times higher on December 31, 2010, than where it was on January 1, 1970. Over the same period, the median sale price of U.S. homes grew by a factor of 6.83, just a little better than half the growth of the Dow.

What it comes down to is that the rate of return on stocks has, over this particular 40-year period, far outperformed the national median sale price for homes. And you’d have made out like a freakin’ bandit if you had bought into the stock market on December 31, 1979, and sold on December 31, 1999, bookending the two best decades in the history of the stock market.

But, if you had bought an average-performing group of stocks on December 31, 1999 and sold on December 31, 2009, you wouldn’t have been so thrilled, losing over 9 percent of your investment in that decade. Worse, if you’d sold on March 9, 2009, when the Dow was at 6,547.05, you would have suffered a loss of 43 percent of your investment.

Median residential real estate prices in Boston since 1970 have significantly outperformed the national numbers. I wish I could give you the data to back up the statement, but I haven’t been able to find Boston-only data all the way back to 1970. Even with the Case-Shiller Index, which I consider to be the most-accurate measure of the performance of the housing market, I could find local information dating back only as far as 1987. (Again, I invite the research-proficient among you to find some usable data for Boston or Massachusetts home prices stretching back to 1970.)

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Market rebound: Hype or legitimate news?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 27, 2012 06:20 AM

Here's a little tip about the news business - we just love trend stories.

Better yet, we like to fool ourselves into thinking we are getting out ahead of them as well.

Hence the explosion of news stories and commentary lately on what certainly looks like a resurgent spring market, with evidence, from stats to reports from buyers, sellers, and yes, real estate agents, of a marked increase in activity.

Given we have been mired for years in one of the longest and deepest real estate downturns our nation has ever seen, if the rebound in sales isn't news, then really, what is?

However, instead of evaluating the evidence, some would rather indulge in exotic conspiracy theories about a certain newspaper, Realtors, and some of the writers who cover the industry.

Basically, we are all in cahoots, or so this line of attack goes, plotting to pump up home prices so Realtors can get juicy commissions and the newspaper industry can live to report another day thanks to more ad revenue.

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Scraping by on $100K?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 23, 2012 08:50 AM

Bring home $100K a year pretty much anywhere else in the country and you'd have your pick of places to live.

But here in Greater Boston, well not so much.

Here are a couple insightful comments from folks out in the market looking at rentals.

A slew of surveys are pointing to rising rents, especially in the Boston area, where apartments have never come cheap. The median rent in the Hub is now $1,834 - the fifth highest in the country - I noted in a recent post.

And even that won't get you far these days, veterans of the local rental market will tell you.

Check out these comments from a couple of apartment dwellers who have clearly seen it all and were not impressed with the $1,834 median rent number. It wasn't too high - rather it was too low!

The reality is, if you want something beyond a worn out 1970s leftover, it costs a lot more than that.

Writes Mggio:

- $1800 rent on a $100k salary is doable but tight. It's almost impossible if you have a car payment/student loans/credit card debt. You won't be able to save for house down payment paying that kind of rent and if you do, you won't be saving for retirement. $100k is a great salary for a single person though and is far above "average".

- If you are married perhaps with a kid and need a two-bedroom, expect to pay at least $2,500 for something decent. Your $100K salary no longer will cut it. You really don't want to life in a 2 bed priced under $2k a month, not even in Allston, Cambridge or Somerville.


 










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Housing bears wrong about Greater Boston?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 22, 2012 06:05 AM

Back when everything was going haywire back in 2008 and 2009, the housing bears had a field day.

Every fresh report of home price collapses in Nevada, Florida and other Sunbelt States invariably triggered predictions that the Boston area, with its perpetually inflated real estate values, would soon get its turn.

But here were are, more than three years later, and a Las Vegas-style home price collapse is nowhere in sight.

What happened?

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Home prices to keep falling?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 21, 2012 06:39 AM

That's the verdict from a Zillow survey of economists and real estate experts, just out this morning.

Home prices nationally will fall another .7 percent in 2012, revised downward from an earlier estimate of a negligible, .2 percent drop, according to Zillow's survey of 104 "economists, real estate experts and market and investment strategists."

Also taking a hit are rosier estimates of a rebound in prices in 2013, with the consensus forecast now calling for a 1.39 percent increase in home prices in 2013, compared to 1.75 percent previously.

The forecasts obviously iron out a range of responses - some individual forecasts were even more alarmist.

Economist Gary Shilling, the dean of the housing bears, expects home prices to fall another 8 percent in 2012.

OK, it's been a while since we've had a good dose of gloom - I've been in withdrawal myself given the relatively happier economic news of late.

So what's behind this new and darker outlook?

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Investing in a home versus investing in stocks 1970 - 2010

Posted by Rona Fischman March 20, 2012 02:12 PM

Bill Kuhlman, CRS, who is the broker/owner of Kuhlman Residential looks at real estate investment for the very long haul.

In last week's post, I compared the return on investment for real estate between January 1, 2000 through March 1, 2012, versus investments over the same period in three indeces for the stock market: The Dow-Jones Industrial Average, The S&P 500, and NASDAQ.

When I shared the stats that the real estate market went up by nearly double the best-performing stock index (36.7 percent for the median home sale price versus 18.4 percent for the Dow), I was taken to task by various readers for cherry-picking an anomalous time period for stocks. Though it wasn't part of some nefarious plan on my part, it's a fair point.

So this week, I'll go back, decade by decade, from 1970 through 2010, and compare the national median sale price of homes versus the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

A disclaimer or two: First, I was surprised I couldn't easily find a history of U.S. median sale data going back several decades. It took many, many attempts on Bing and Google to get sales history information that, like the Dow Jones, was not adjusted for inflation. Even then, I could only find a chart from which I estimated the values at the beginning of each decade. Any of these estimations might be off slightly. If you have better luck getting the exact figures, I bow to your research superiority.

Though median sale price (same number of sales above and below the median) is the industry standard, I'd prefer to have access to the mean, or the average price for sales, to work with. I think that would be a more accurate measurement of the upward and downward movement in home values. As the upper end of the market tends to deviate far more from the median than the bottom end of the market. The median, IMO, unnecessarily dampens the outcome. But median prices are the only available data I can find for the whole U.S. dating back to 1970, so I'll run with them.

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Is housing recovery for real?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 19, 2012 06:12 AM

The jury is still out on that one. Still, by the end of this week, we will have some major clues in hand.

The Commerce Department will release numbers of home starts tomorrow, while the National Association of Realtors will report home sales data for February on Wednesday.

Topping it all off, numbers on new home sales will come out on Friday.

All three key indicators are likely to show improvement, according to surveys of top economists by Bloomberg. (Local housing numbers are due out next week.)

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Burned by a bad contractor?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 16, 2012 07:06 AM

Check out the consumer complaint numbers for Massachusetts - home improvement contractors are No. 3.

Shocker!

Seriously though, there were 3,200 complaints about home improvement contractors last year, behind only auto insurance, which generated 8,300 complaints and health insurance, which weighed in with 6,500, the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation reports.

One of the more eye-catching complaints to come to light is the case of a Watertown contractor who hired a contractor for $50,000 to shore up the retaining walls around his home.

The contractor got part way through, then vanished, leaving behind a pile of half-finished, shoddily performed work.

And that's clearly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to complaints about contractors.

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Soaring rents a “silver lining” in a down market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 14, 2012 06:38 AM

That is Zillow's puzzling take on rising rents here in Greater Boston and across the country.

Rents are up in metro markets across the country, even as home prices fall or stagnate.
And it's happening right here in Greater Boston as well, with rents having risen nearly 2 percent over the past year even as the median home price has fallen by 3 percent, Zillow reports.

The median rent for Boston metro is now up to $1,834, the fifth highest in the country. Home prices, by contrast, have fallen to a median price of $302,800, but are still the fifth highest in the country, according to the survey.

In both rents and home prices, we are behind only San Francisco, New York, San Diego and Los Angeles.

OK, fine, but how in the world is this good news for anyone other than real estate developers and landlords?

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Spring market off to a fast start?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 13, 2012 06:28 AM

OK, it's been a very long time since we've had anything remotely resembling good news on a spring real estate market.

Maybe this qualifies: Pending home sales skyrocketed last month, rising 44.2 percent compared to February 2011, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports.

It even beat April, 2010, when pending sales soared 32.3 percent as home buyers scrambled to get deals in place before the $8,000 federal tax credit expired.

It is the 10th straight month that pending sales have increased.

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Homeownership in danger?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 12, 2012 07:08 AM

"For the first time in generations, the American dream of homeownership is being threatened."

That's straight from the National Association of Realtors latest ad campaign - you know the one in which the cute kid tells grandpa he'd like to own a home just like his someday. Trying not to be a party pooper, Grandpa, softly responds "I hope so" as he gazes worriedly at the moving truck across the street.

Here's the scene, as transcribed by nZone in a recent comment.

Kid: "I'm going to have a house like this when I grow up".
Grandpa: "I hope so" (long pause) I hope so".
NAR: "The dream of homeownership is being threatened".
[another word, it is a good time to buy right now]
NAR: "Realtors, members of National Association of Realtors are here to represent you and protect homeownership".


OK, this ad gets an A for tugging at the heart strings but an F when it comes to basic logic.

"What in the world are they protecting?" nZone asks - and I couldn't agree more.

Let's just think about this for a second.

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How should agents get paid?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 9, 2012 07:15 AM

How you get paid inevitably shapes how you do your job.

One big example can be found in the financial services field. Too many people wind up in the clutches of some some big firm or chain and end up steered into financial products that an adviser is getting paid a commission or fee to push.

If your pay is largely or solely tied to commissions, you are going to hustle like mad to sell, sell, sell.

Of course, my interest here is in homes - and the roiling discontent with the Realtor business model that is obvious to anyone who reads the comment board on this blog.

If we could wave our magic wand and shift agents across the country from commission to salary, client service would certainly go up. Beneficial or not, the number of Realtors would also drop dramatically.

Of course, like any service, you would have to pay for it.

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Would you retire in Massachusetts? Could you afford to?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 6, 2012 06:48 AM

OK, it's not like I have a lot of time these days to ponder how to spend my golden years, if I make it that far.

Like anyone in their 40s here in the Boston area with young children, I am scrambling to make a living.

Still, at least in theory, buying a home is a long-term investment. And it makes no sense to blunder forward without a thought to the end game.

So to put it another way, what is your long-term real estate plan? And does it make sense to retire anywhere the Northeast, especially Massachusetts?

This survey by TopRetirements.com on the "worst states" to retire in has gotten a fair amount of play - it seems a vehicle for selling disgruntled New Englanders on retirement communities in the Sunbelt.

Connecticut is listed as the worst state, followed by Illinois, Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts. Maine is No. 9, just after New York.

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More signs of a turnaround?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 2, 2012 11:00 AM

Here's a pretty comprehensive piece by Bloomberg on the growing signs of a rebound in the real estate market.

Still, hold the champagne.

A recent Fed report offers a more cautious view of the road ahead for the local housing market in Greater Boston and across New England.

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Another strike against the suburbs?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 29, 2012 10:07 AM

High gas prices and ever longer and more traffic-clogged commutes have sent the average family's transportation costs soaring, a new study finds.

And when commuting costs are weighed alongside monthly mortgage payments and rent payments, more and more families, including here in Greater Boston, are struggling to make ends meet, the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology finds.

Based on housing costs alone, three quarters of 900 metropolitan and "micropolitan" areas across the country would now be considered affordable to median income families. But the number of "affordable" neighborhoods within reach of the average family shrinks to just 28 percent when gas, car and other transportation costs are factored in.

With a commuter rail and subway system, the Boston area fares better on transportation costs than other metro areas with little or no public transit.

The average family within I-495 shells out $12,394 on commuting and other costs, compared to $14,928 in Birmingham, Ala., and $14,624 in Rochester in Upstate New York, according to the study.

Still, this is no commuter paradise here, either, with the average Boston-area family shelling out 47 percent of its income on transportation and housing. That's just above CNT's 45 percent affordability threshold.

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How much of your income goes to housing?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 27, 2012 10:18 AM

Greetings from sunny Florida, epicenter of the housing market meltdown.

I've spent the last week down in the Sunshine State with Karen and the kids.

My in-laws live outside of Orlando, but managed to survive the housing crash thanks to some prudent decisions.

Mainly they avoided the temptation of moving up to bigger digs when housing prices were soaring down here.

Here's a link to a study that details how both homeowners and renters have taken it on the chin as we slowly climb out of the worst real estate downturn since the great Depression.

Overall housing costs have increased - not decreased - for many families since 2008, when the world economy came close to a replay of 1929, the Center for Housing Policy finds.

For homeowners, incomes fell more than twice as much as housing costs since 2008, according to the study.

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At what cost status?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 25, 2012 06:00 AM

Status seeking is bankrupting us. Or to put it more bluntly, snobbery is bankrupting us.

Elitism has been rampant for years in higher education, where parents and their offspring will borrow to the hilt to pay for an elite educational brand.

And it doesn't take too much to realize a roughly similar phenomenon has also been at work in Greater Boston and other pricey housing markets across the country, where the scramble to get into the "right town" with the "right schools" drives many homebuyers.

Yet if you haven't already broken the bank to buy into a W town, there's time to stop the madness with a more practical look at the housing market.

In fact, it might be helpful to take a page from the new realism with which parents have been starting to view bloated college tuition costs. Harvard and other Ivies are great, but the academic rigor is not always what it seems - getting it can be the hardest part.

And for many professions and fields, does anyone really care where you went to college?

A degree is a degree is a degree - it's what you do with it that counts.

More Boston area buyers would be better off taking a similarly hardheaded approach when weighing the pros and cons of various communities.

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Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 23, 2012 06:00 AM

It is certainly tempting to stretch in a high-priced market like Greater Boston.

But are buyers who stretch and overpay, say $500,000 for a home that was listed at $475,000, essentially selfish, driving up prices and wrecking the market for everyone else?

I'd argue that is a bit of a stretch - a harsh judgment on buyers fighting for a foothold in one of the nation's most difficult housing markets. But clearly not everyone agrees with me on that.

Here's an excellent analysis of stretching - and how it can distort prices - by James in Cambridge.

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Is this market rigged against prudent buyers?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 21, 2012 09:02 AM

The housing downturn is slowly but surely on its way out here in Greater Boston.

OK, in some towns it may take years to get back to 2005/2006 prices. Yet in many of the more coveted suburbs real estate values are untouched or even higher than they were before the bubble burst.

Stretching to buy remains commonplace inside the I-495 beltway, putting more prudent buyers, who want to stay within a certain price range, at a distinct disadvantage.

One key piece of evidence is the mismatch between median home prices and family incomes. Yes, we live in one of the wealthiest metro markets in the country, but, even so, housing prices remain at multiples that all but require some amount of stretching.

While the median family income is roughly $100,000 in Middlesex County, the median house is selling for $400,000. In fact, you can ante up a hefty $430,000 and still get out bid in town like Natick, a nice town but hardly a posh suburb.

We hear a lot on the comment board of this blog from buyers who are out there looking, but trying to stay within a certain price point.

Unfortunately, it appears to be a battle between the virtuous few trying to stick to a budget and the more easily swayed majority, seeing no other choice but to pay up to get the house they want.

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Stretching to buy? Did you already?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 17, 2012 10:59 AM

It's easy to do in Greater Boston, where median incomes, as high as they are, are still out of whack with housing prices.

Just take Middlesex County. One of the wealthiest urban/suburban stretches in the country, it includes places like Cambridge, Newton and Wellesley, where prices may bob about, but never really seem to go down.

Median family income is high - roughly $100,000 in Middlesex County. But home prices, even after years of a down real estate market, are even higher, with the median home price of around $400,000.

For a family on the hunt for a house in the western suburbs - or for that matter across Greater Boston - it's not a question of whether to stretch. Rather, it's how much risk to take on in order to get a house that is not a complete wreck.

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Go west young homebuyer, part II: Western Massachusetts

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 16, 2012 10:58 AM

My wife went to Smith and I was born in Greenfield. And we'd both move out to Western Massachusetts with our kids in a heartbeat if we could.

Of course, there is just one little problem with that plan - money. Greater Boston is where the jobs are, not Greenfield or even Northampton or Amherst, unless you are an academic.

The jobless rate in Middlesex County, home of the western suburbs, is in the 5 percent range - almost half what it is in parts of Western Massachusetts.

Still, if you can find a way to swing it, you can find some killer home prices and probably a better pace and lifestyle than status obsessed, traffic clogged Greater Boston.

You can easily get a home under $300,000 - and in many cases under $200,000.

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Outbid in Greater Boston? Go west, young homebuyer!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 15, 2012 09:42 AM

West as in Central Massachusetts, that is.

Get out beyond the I-495 belt and home prices drop like a rock.

Check out today's Globe story - you can land a village colonial in Athol for about what it takes to buy a Toyota Camry.

The price differential has always been there, sure. But while the real estate downturn has dented prices in Greater Boston, it has absolutely laid waste to many small towns west of 495.

Athol now has the lowest median sale price in the state, at $78,250. And, as Jenifer McKim notes in her story, many now bank-owned homes can be bought for much less than even that.

Generally, there are several towns in Central Massachusetts now where the median sale price is falling fast towards the $120,000 mark and below, according to The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

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What would make you fall head-over-heels for a house?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 14, 2012 09:01 AM

OK, just call this the Valentine's Day edition.

Men and women fall in love for very different reasons, not only with each other, but when it comes to buying a house as well.

Or so says Trulia, which just released a survey of what features men and women go gaga over when looking at a house.

Let's start with the men, where the priorities seem to be grilling, football and sex, in about that order.

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Early start to spring market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 13, 2012 06:58 AM

OK, I just love it when Realtors invoke the weather, typically when things don't go right.

Like it never snows in New England - duh - or blaming sunny summer for luring buyers to the beach instead of open houses.

But we don't have to consult a meteorologist to know that this has been an exceptionally mild winter.

And in this case, our friendly local real estate agents may be right on in attributing a big increase in pending sales this past January to the spring-like weather.

I am in a generous mood this morning, so I'll even buy the second part of the argument as well. That not only good weather, but an improving economy may be behind the rise.

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Yes, our sellers are still stingy

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 10, 2012 08:59 AM

While sellers across the country are piling on the concessions, not here in the Bay State.

Just 21 percent of sellers offered a sweetener to move their homes, compared to 41 percent nationally, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports in its annual survey of buyers and sellers.

Sellers who threw in a few goodies typically chose to fork over money for closing costs and home warranty polices, or offered a credit towards home repairs and remodeling, according to MAR.

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Addicted to shiny and new?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 9, 2012 06:38 AM

Even during tough times, buyers still go gaga over the surface things - fresh paint, hardwood floors, hip appliances.

And the allure of the fresh and new is particularly strong here in Greater Boston, where so many homes are older and in need of fixing up.

However, given how inflated home prices are within I-495, losing your head over a home that has been all dressed up to sell is a luxury most of us can't afford.

If you are fine paying an extra $20,000 for what amounts to a nice paint job, then go ahead, it's your life and your money.

But if you want to break into the Greater Boston market without saddling yourself with backbreaking mortgage payments, you have force yourself to see beyond hideous wallpaper, scuffed floors, dingy bathrooms and battered doors.

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Is there a mean streak in this market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 8, 2012 11:42 AM

Certainly seems that way to me after reading the comments on one of my recent posts.

Having been in this situation myself, I took to heart Brendan's story about his so far fruitless house hunt in the western suburbs.

Brendan and his wife, Emily, want to say goodbye to their urban apartment and find a four bedroom, 2000-square-foot home in reasonable condition.

They'd like to start a family and are looking to spend in the $400,000 to $500,000 range.

Yet the one home he liked, in Natick, he wound up outbid on. Since then, it has been a dreary march through a series of oddly configured, overpriced fixer uppers.

Sounds all fairly typical - to me it was pretty clear that it was just another buyer grappling
with the often tough reality that you can spend a lot on a house inside the I-495 beltway and not have much to show for it.

But Brendan's story, unfortunately, and, to me, inexplicably, struck a very different chord among some of those who follow and comment on this blog.

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How small is too small?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 2, 2012 06:49 AM

Extra space comes at as premium here in Greater Boston, a market dominated by older, smaller homes.

The vast majority of homes inside the I-495 beltway were built before the 1970s, when families were bigger and home sizes were typically smaller.

Homes built in the first few decades after World War II are likely to fall in the 2,000-square- feet-and-below range - I am thinking of all those vast tracts of 1950s capes and ranches.

My Natick village colonial is not even 1,800 square feet - and that's after an addition and renovation.

Yet maybe the problem isn't the size of the housing that's out there, but rather our attitude towards it. Even in a modestly-sized house, most of us can point to space we don't use and if push comes to shove, would be hard to justify, at least on a utilitarian basis.

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When it comes to prices, is this as good as it gets?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 1, 2012 06:31 AM

Sorry, but the great home price collapse is looking about as likely right now as a visit from the Great Pumpkin.

It's hard not to come to that conclusion even with the latest Case-Shiller report.

The picture nationally is rockier than what analysts had predicted. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had predicted a 3.3 percent drop in home prices nationally for November in the latest Case-Shiller report.

We wound up with a 3.7 percent drop and a 1.6 percent drop in Boston metro prices.

That puts housing values back at spring 2003 levels, or about an 18 percent decline locally, compared to as much as 30 percent nationally.

However, the numbers mask the unfortunate reality home buyers sooner or later find out about the Greater Boston market. The fact is, there really are no bargains out there, just homes, often in need of work, that are somewhat less inflated in price than they were five years ago.

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As prices stabilize, will buyers reappear?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 31, 2012 05:33 AM

For a real estate rebound to take hold, prices don't have to soar. They simply have to get off what has been a relentlessly downward track.

There are signs that this is already happening in Greater Boston, with some towns having actually seen prices rise over the past year while others saw modest declines.

Sales are now starting to rise again, though it's a long climb up from anemic levels not seen since the early 1990s.

Crucially, more buyers may also encourage more sellers to take a chance - right now, as my Monday post noted, the pickings are pretty slim for house hunters right now.

It's hard for the market to gain traction when there is not much to look at.

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A sign of changing times: Priced out of Natick

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 30, 2012 06:35 AM

Brendan and his wife, Emily, thought finding a four bedroom home in the suburbs would be a cinch.

After all, we are in the midst of a seemingly never ending real estate downturn, right?

Well yes and no.

Home sales have been skidding along at record low levels not seen since the early 1990s, though activity has begun to pick up over the past few months.

But prices in more than a few suburbs within have held fairly steady or have gone up over the past year. (I quote Brendan and look at prices in the western suburbs in this Globe West piece that ran yesterday.)

Back to Brendan and his wife, who found themselves outbid for a 1950s colonial in need of work last spring. The Lois Street home, on the market for $430,000, wound up fetching $450,000 after a short but furious bidding war.

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2012 unscientific market survey

Posted by Rona Fischman January 25, 2012 02:11 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein didn't ask me what I thought of the market. I guess he knows better! He and his partner did an informal survey of some of his associates on the topic of what they expect in 2012.

Attorney Vetstein writes:
My law partner and I did our own unscientific survey on the 2012 real estate market by contacting the real estate agents and loan officers with whom we do business. Here are some snippets of what they think 2012 will bring:

"I expect the 2012 real estate market in the greater Boston area to be stable. Overall, buyers will continue to have the upper hand but I don?t think we are going to see any precipitous drop in either sales prices or the number of sales. If interest rates remain low it continues to be a good time to get into the market knowing that you are getting in somewhere close to the bottom." -Realtor (tm), Cambridge
"I am optimistic that interest rates will remain low at least until the presidential elections. The uncertainty that has constrained spending and lending will keep things from taking off until there is a clearer picture of what policies will be in place (intervention and regulation vs. deregulation and free markets)." -Loan Officer, Boston, Brookline and Route 128 suburbs
"I see a slow start to the Spring, but a steady stream of inventory equal to purchasers. The best place to be is in a move-up, as buyers will find a greater gain on their more expensive home in spite of possibly losing a bit on the sale side. It seems that there are more foreclosures on the horizon with stable amounts of short sales, another way for a buyers to make immediate gains. Buyers will still dictate values, relative to condition and inventory." -Realtor (tm), Framingham
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Should Uncle Sam compensate homeowners when prices fall?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 25, 2012 07:03 AM

Here's the latest idea for bailing out the troubled housing market, straight from the Left Coast.

James Wilcox, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, wants the federal government to guarantee homeowners they won't lose money if they buy a home.

If prices fall after you buy that Medford two-family or Plymouth ranch, the government would send you a check based on the decline. If prices fall far enough, you could get your whole down payment back.

Such a guarantee, in turn, would convince wary buyers, now sitting on the sidelines as prices continue to fall, to instead take the plunge and sign for a home, Wilcox writes in the Times today.

Sounds like a classic liberal free lunch, right? Well, not quite.

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After hitting two-decade low, are home sales poised to rebound?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 24, 2012 06:02 AM

Good old 1990. The Massachusetts Miracle had just gone bust and banks across New England were tottering under crazy office development and condo loans.

Well you have to go back that far to find a year when home sales were as low as they were in 2011, real estate publisher and data firm The Warren Group reports this morning.

Sales of single-family homes dropped 6 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, to a grand total of 38,994. That's just as few thousand above 1990's anemic total of 35,819 sales.

Worse, the year ended with a thud, with December sales having fallen 5 percent compared to December, 2010.

But at the risk of sounding like a born-again housing market bull, a closer look at the numbers points to some reason to hope that we'll see a modest sales rebound in 2012.

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Homeowners: The happy majority speaks

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 23, 2012 05:51 AM

Roughly three-quarters of homeowners polled across the country say they are satisfied with owning, reports HomeGain in its latest survey.

But the reasons have little to do with prices, which have been down, but rather the traditional reasons often cited as benefits of home ownership. These include having control over the home and what types of upgrades are made, as well as pride of ownership.

Meanwhile, 28 percent are not so thrilled with home ownership, with two-thirds of these unhappy campers disgruntled over the direction of real estate prices.

Instead of the silent majority here, we have the happy majority.

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Expired and cancelled listing and the winter market

Posted by Rona Fischman January 20, 2012 02:12 PM

When I began to write about the winter market, I drew a comment from my friend and ally, Bill Wendel. He and I met in 1992, when we had allied interest in the development of buyer agency, MABA and NAEBA. During December, Bill began writing about the winter market, including expired and canceled high-end listings.

Timing the market is not as simple as just showing up at the low-demand time of the year. There is leg-work involved in finding the properties that have not sold because they are over-priced or otherwise mis-marketed. Like jj24, successful buyers watch long-standing listings until the time is right to make a good deal on it.

Bill writes:
This year, we realized that focusing on seller-initiated mega price reductions caused us to miss some significant savings, like price concessions negotiated by exclusive buyer agents and price reductions that effectively occur when listings expire or are canceled. Is "timing the market" really be the most effective way to get a price reduction on a luxury home in Boston or elsewhere in MA? That's a possibility, based on the success of past clients and our ongoing analysis of expired & canceled listings across Massachusetts during the final weeks of 2011.

During 20 day period between St. Nick's Day and Christmas (12/6-25/11), approximately 234 residential MLS listings priced over $850,000 expired or were canceled. As noted in our previous blog posts in this series Sellers with high end homes seemed less likely to reduce their prices than less expensive listings which often expired even though they were priced well below their assessed value.

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Yes, buying a house can still be a smart investment

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 20, 2012 06:42 AM

Home ownership has been very good to Mike, thank you very much.

We are bombarded with stories these days about underwater homeowners and the never ending travails of the housing market.

You would think everyone was on the edge of foreclosure. Yet we are still talking about a small minority of market, even with the record number of bank repossessions.

Frankly, for the majority of homeowners, life goes on as it did before the big real estate bust. And for some, who were smart enough to buy within their means in a community with relatively stable pricing, real estate has turned out to be a pretty darned good investment as well.

Just ask "Mike," whose name I've changed to protect him from the retribution of grumpy housing market bears.

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House hunting? Tell me your story

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 19, 2012 10:35 AM

OK gang, I am working on story for the Globe West on prices in the western suburbs. If you are looking at buying or have recently bought, email me at sbvanvoorhis@hotmail.com.

For that matter, I am also interested what buyers have to say, whether they are looking in the western suburbs or not, for future posts on this blog. So if you have a story to tell, regardless of where you are looking, let me know as well.

When it comes to high rents, Greater Boston ranks No. 2

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 19, 2012 06:12 AM

Or so says rental market tracker HotPads, which puts Boston just behind New York when it comes to high rents.

The average listing price for a two bedroom in Boston and the western suburbs is just under $2,000 a month, according to HotPads. The New York metro market weighs in around $2,500 a month.

And we are just getting started here, with rising demand and an increasingly tight market fueling predictions of double digit increases for 2012.

It's a trend that not only has renters on edge, but some landlords as well.

In fact, one of the Boston area's most prolific apartment developers is already warning of a potential backlash.

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Is the worst over for housing? Or yet to come?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 18, 2012 09:52 AM

At least when it comes to the battered housing market, consumer sentiment may have finally hit bottom.

Americans see housing prices finally stabilizing in 2012, predicting, on average, a modest .8 bump up in real estate values, according to Fannie Mae's latest monthly survey of the national housing market.

Some of it is clearly tied to the economy, with more people now saying their personal financial situation will be better over the next year than those predicting no improvement at all.

Roughly 71 percent said it is a good time to buy a home, up three points from Fannie Mae's November survey. However, just 11 percent believe it is a good time to sell.

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Condo owners push back

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 17, 2012 09:31 AM

Why buy a condo now when you might finally be able to afford a single family home here in Greater Boston?

I recently posed that question and got quite a response from condo buyers.

Some argued I am missing the intrinsic good things that come with condo ownership.

Well having just shoveled my driveway here out in Natick, this is one of those days when I wish I was a condo owner too.

If you want to own a house, that's great, but you had better either learn how to be handyman/handywoman or hire one.


Here's what CentDonation wrote:

I bought a townhouse condo even though I could have afforded a single family home. Why? Lawn care and snow plowing. If I had a single family home my yard would have been the one with waist high weeds, and my sidewalk would have been the impassable one. Also, I'm not a big hanging out outside person, so the lack of a private yard isn't as big a deal for me.

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Looking to change apartments? Wait until spring

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 13, 2012 07:02 AM

That's the advice of rental market tracker RentJuice.

Only about 20 percent of apartment listings in the Boston area - defined as Boston and the inner ring of suburbs - are available for immediate occupancy in January, RentJuice reports.

But that number soars to 63 percent when it comes to apartments available for rent in April.

Still, if you are in a jam and need to move now, consider Everett, Chelsea or Dorchester, or for that matter Braintree and West Roxbury, where 60 percent of the listings are available now.

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Why buy a condo now?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 11, 2012 06:34 AM

If you are asking yourself this question, you apparently are not alone.

Pending condo sales plunged 20 percent in 2011, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports.

That's compared to a much smaller slip of just under 2 percent for pending sales of single-family homes for the year.

Condos emerged as Greater Boston's answer to the starter home during the bubble years - as a way to get into the real estate market for less than $300,000.

But as home prices in middle class and blue collar towns have slipped, some buyers who would have been forced to settle in years past for a condo have found new options in the single-family home market.

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The return of rising home prices?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 10, 2012 06:36 AM

Home prices may be finally stabilizing, if not headed back up, says Clear Capital in new report.

OK, granted we are talking about pretty minimal gains overall - a projected 1.4 percent bump up for Greater Boston in 2012 compared to an incremental .1 percent increase in 2011.

But not all towns are created equal - the most expensive suburbs may just start to see prices take off again in 2012, while more middle-of-the-road towns find stability.

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Time for another housing bailout?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 9, 2012 05:59 AM

That's what Ben Bernanke appears to be suggesting.

The Federal Reserve recently fired off a white paper to Congress chock full of ideas for stabilizing the housing market, Bloomberg reports.

While job growth has picked up, the housing market is still headed in the opposite direction, threatening the economy as a whole, the Fed contends.

More than $7 trillion in housing equity has vanished - more than half of what was on the books in 2006 before the housing bubble burst. Overall, prices have fallen 33 percent since then, the Fed notes in its report.

Fortunately, no one is talking about home buyer tax credits anymore - one of the most disastrous economic gimmicks of modern times.

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Priced out of Greater Boston, she moved to Canada

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 6, 2012 06:41 AM

Now there's a long commute!

OK, just kidding about the commute, but not the move. Greyphysics, who some will surely recognize from the comments section of this blog, recently moved to Ontario after she and her husband came to the painful conclusion that Boston area real estate prices were not for them.

The couple, who work in the sciences, traded in their Boston area apartment for one near Toronto that, for roughly the same cost, is bigger, better laid out and includes everything.

Here's greyphysics.

So far it is a huge improvement. Our rent is about the same but includes heat, hot water, electricity and a garage parking space. No more shoveling or running out to move the car for street cleaning. The apartment is updated and perfect for starting a family, unlike most of the apartments back home. We will probably buy something someday, but there's no rush and no need for it to be in Boston.

It wasn't an easy conclusion to come to, though.

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Are the suburbs poised for a price takeoff?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 5, 2012 07:10 AM

Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko is predicting big things this year for "smart cities."

They are hot, hot, hot, according to Kolko, with thriving high-tech and knowledge sectors priming the economic pump and ready to chase away the housing market blues in these lucky markets.

And our western suburbs, defined generously as the broad sweep from Cambridge to Framingham, are high on his list. As "honorable mentions," he throws in the northern suburbs, and, less clearly, Worcester.

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Back to 1990s home prices?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 2, 2012 06:34 AM

So argues one of the most respected economics blogs around.

Once inflation is accounted for, the real estate downturn has succeeded in wiping out all the price gains of the 2000s, Calculated Risk contends.

Of course, all real estate is local - there are a few tony suburbs and hot urban neighborhoods in Greater Boston that have seen prices go up, not down, during the downturn.

But that's not been the reality of much of the rest of the country - or for most of the middle of the road towns and neighborhoods around here, for that matter.

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Why the numbers count

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 30, 2011 09:18 AM

I seem to be in a minority in my outrage over the National Association of Realtors numbers mess.

As noted in yesterday's post, NAR recently owned up to overstating home sales by more than 14 percent since the real estate downturn kicked into high gear in 2007.

Basically, the trade organization reported nearly 3 million home sales from 2007 through 2010 that simply never happened.

More seriously, while owning up to the mistake, NAR has stopped short of pledging to thoroughly revamp what appears to be a flawed methodology.

That means we may very well be in for similar surprises in the future.

But reaction in the comments section was muted. Basically, no one believes NAR's numbers in the first place, so what's the big deal?


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The most shockingly underplayed real estate story of 2011

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 29, 2011 06:48 AM

Let's not beat around the bush. The honors go to the massive screw up by the National Association of Realtors, which has been dramatically overstating the number of homes sold for years now.

In a recent release, NAR states that its estimates of homes sold across the country were off by more than 14 percent between 2007 and 2010. Nearly 3 million fewer homes were sold over the past three years, when the bottom fell out of the real estate market.

It's clear now the housing downturn has been even worse than we all assumed.

Still, it's hard not to get a kick at how the trade group reported this piece of embarrassing news.

The revision is tucked into a cheery press release headlined, "Existing-Home Sales Continue to Climb in November."

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What are your housing market predictions for 2012?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 28, 2011 07:22 AM

I will get the ball rolling with a few of my own. Feel free to let me have it and offer a few of your own.

I will feature some of the more insightful commentaries in a post next week as 2012 kicks into gear.

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Will you have the buying power to move up? Ask James

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 23, 2011 06:32 AM

Kudos to James in Cambridge for his great analysis of the bleak outlook confronting homeowners with dreams of moving up to bigger spreads.

Basically, given the likelihood at best of anemic price increases over the next five years, hoping to cash in on your current home in order to pay for the next one could be a pipe dream.

"If you want to "move up the housing ladder," you're going to have to earn more money. Your house won't do it for you," James notes.

Great point. The other option, I'd add, is playing the old location game, taking on a longer commute for a larger house. Given ever more clogged roadways and the decrepit state of our public transportation system, that's an option you should think long and hard about before moving out to East Nowhereville.

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Is $1,500 a month for a “micro-unit” fair?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 22, 2011 06:36 AM

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino wants to lure young entrepreneurs to the city's emerging waterfront district, currently home to the ICA, the convention center and a scattering of upscale apartment and office high-rises.

So city officials, working with developers, want to build "micro-units" as small as 300-to-375-square-feet as bait to lure young tech talent from Cambridge and beyond.

But there is one big, macro-sized problem to the micro-unit idea, and it's the rent, set at $1,500 a month.

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Greater Boston market a pressure cooker?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 21, 2011 06:31 AM

It's tough to buy a home around here, even if you have one or two decent incomes to work with.

And the hyped up competition to snag a home, any home, is far from the norm.

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Will your house be worth more in five years?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 20, 2011 06:08 AM

That's a crucial question for anyone hoping to eventually move up the housing ladder.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that moving up in this market is going to be pretty tough, especially if you bought your home during the bubble years.

But what will the market look like five years from now in 2016?

Zillow.com put that question to a panel of more than 100 economists from across the country and came back with some pretty interesting answers.

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Record low rates are great for buyers, but don’t get stampeded

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 19, 2011 06:19 AM

Interest rates keep flirting with new record lows.

The rate on a traditional, 30-year mortgage fell to a record 4.19 percent last week, reports Bankrate.com, which I occasionally write for. And at 3.42 percent, the rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage tied a record low.

That's good news for home buyers, who can save hundreds on their monthly mortgage payments.

But too often, this fact becomes part of a hackneyed sales pitch - better buy now before rates start rising again.

Well don't fall for it.

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It's not how much space - it's how you use it

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 16, 2011 11:34 AM

Let's face it, the real estate downturn is not all that bad.

After all, it is helping at least keep prices in check here in overinflated Greater Boston.,

But as potential buyers decide to stay put and make do with what they have, is this also spurring some badly needed creativity in home design?

So says Connecticut-based architect and author Duo Dickinson, in this piece just out in U.S. News & World Report on home design. I guess still do more than just the college rankings.

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Housing market to finally hit bottom in 2012?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 15, 2011 08:43 AM

That's the latest prediction from Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft.

He see's home prices dropping another 1 percent across the country in 2012, followed by a 2 percent jump in 2013.

Mortgage rates will stay low through at least the middle of next year, Nothaft contends.

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Lay off the Realtors

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 14, 2011 05:47 AM

OK, Realtors are as popular right now as reporters, elected officials and bankers. In post-crash America, scapegoats abound.

But some of the criticism seems increasingly over the top, especially when it comes to Realtors, who are a favorite target of a few regulars in the comments section of this blog.

I guess I am having a hard time fathoming the intense anger held by a few that real estate agents actually make their living by selling homes, earning a commission when they are successful.

Sounds just like the way many people in a capitalist economy make their living, providing an essential and honorable service, whether selling homes or hospital products or widgets.

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The perils of overpricing

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 13, 2011 05:43 AM

Here's a lesson for anyone tempted to get greedy with the listing price of their home.

Building in a big premium, far from guaranteeing a nice gain at the end of the day, instead may be a ticket to multiple price reductions. And when you do sell, you could wind up parting with your house at a sizable discount.

Certainly that's what many frustrated sellers and their agents are discovering as homes come on the market at lofty prices, only to die a death of a thousand price cuts.

And as it turns out, there is academic research out there to back up this up as well.

Consider a little known - in consumer circles anyway - study from 2002.

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Barney’s real legacy – and it’s not the housing crash

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 12, 2011 06:45 AM

Barney Frank is retiring and as some see it, he is one of the big culprits behind the housing market crash.

Yes, Barney was as clueless as Greenspan during the bubble years, as were many other national leaders. But Wall Street depravity and the gutting of decades of financial industry regulations were arguably far more meaningful factors behind the collapse.

Love him or hate him, Barney is both brilliant and ready to tell it how it is. My favorite was his smack down of the Tea Party type who, at a forum on Obama's health care plan, asked Frank, "Why are you supporting this Nazi policy."

Said Frank: "Trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table."

When push came to shove in the fall of 2008, Frank put himself squarely on the right side of history, helping push through $789 billion-plus bailout that saved both the banks and the auto industry from collapsing.

If you think the housing market in trouble, then what it would be like now without an auto industry and with most of our major banks in cinders?

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Could you cough up 20 percent down? Should you?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 9, 2011 05:55 AM

Some fear that demanding 20 percent down would be a major shock to a housing market still struggling to get up off its knees.

It is certainly the big question amid a raging debate in Washington on whether to return to the 20 percent down rule, the long-time gold standard in real estate that was thrown to the winds during the bubble years.

Yet a new survey of what home buyers are putting down reveals we are already more than halfway there.

Amid the now years-long housing downturn, the down payment has morphed from a small or token entry feet to a substantial, upfront payment.

Nationally, banks and other lenders across the country are now asking for, on average, 12.29 percent down, according to a new report out by LendingTree.com.

Here in Massachusetts, the average is a shade below 13 percent, making us No. 10 in the country for states with the highest down payments.

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Home buyers, how fearful are you?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 8, 2011 06:20 AM

Pending sales are up - but so are cancellations

There has been a modest bump in sales activity -  in Massachusetts and across the country - as we head into December.

Pending home sales posted a 5.2 percent, year-over-year increase in November, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports. There were initial sales contracts inked on 3,580 homes last month.

That mirrors the 10.4 percent jump in pending sales across the country the National Association of Realtors recently crowed about.(Though, to be clear, that was a month-over-month increase, as in October over September, raising some basic seasonal issues with those numbers.)

Yet how many of these deals will make it to the closing table?

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Are buyers just too demanding now?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 7, 2011 06:23 AM

Some sellers here in Greater Boston contend they are being abused by pushy buyers.

My post yesterday - My home is worth more than that! - got some pointed responses from sellers.

One commenter in particular, Temporarily, offered up a compelling defense of sellers who have done everything right, only to wind up getting walked all over by buyers who want it all, and then some.

Temporarily bought for $625,000 in 2004 and then put another $80,000 into various renovations. The bathrooms were gutted, new windows put in, not to mention a new patio and some nice landscaping work as well.

Even so, Temporarily listed at $629,000 and would have bargained down to $615,000.

Instead, Temporarily got just one offer - for $599,000.

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My home is worth more than that!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 6, 2011 06:08 AM

OK, the market may be down, but I don't care, because my home is different. It's so special and I am entitled to a nice premium, thank you very much. And don't you dare offer a penny less than the listed price.

This continues to be a common refrain among homeowners, and no more so than here in Greater Boston, land of perpetually-inflated home prices.

Despite the bursting of the real estate bubble and a near Depression, many still believe their homes are undervalued, HomeGain finds in its latest quarterly market survey.

Here's a particularly telling stat. More than three quarters of homeowners nationally - 76 percent - believe their homes are worth more than the listing price urged by their real estate agent.

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Has moving back home in with the parents become too easy an option?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 5, 2011 06:59 AM

Yes, the wretched economy is seeing more recent college grads than ever return home.

Check out Rona's great blog on this trend - one survey found that 85 percent of the Class of 2011 planned to move back home.

But is there more than just pure economics behind this shift? Has the prospect of camping out with mom and dad simply lost its stigma and now presents a warm and cozy alternative?

Earlier generations of college students struggled mightily to avoid moving back with their parents. I know, having entered the labor force back in 1991, when New England was slammed with one of the worst downturns it had ever seen.

The idea of returning home and camping out in the basement was a fate worse than death. To me, it seemed nothing less than a gut-wrenching admission of defeat - that my hard work in college and my dreams of launching a career had been all for naught.

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What’s your personality? Are you a buyer or a renter?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 2, 2011 06:12 AM

Yes, personality could be the deciding factor in whether you are better off renting long-term or buying.

That's my take on new research, soon to be published in Real Estate Economics, by Eli Beracha of East Carolina University and Ken H. Johnson of Florida International University.

The title says it all: "Lessons from Over 30 Years of Buy versus Rent Decisions: Is the American Dream Always Wise?"

And the short answer, after getting a chance to read through the entire paper the other day, is that renting can indeed trump buying, at least on a purely financial basis. But it's also clear that to make renting a successful financial strategy for you, you need to have the right mix of personality and personal circumstance as well.

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First-time buyers, what's your take on this market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 1, 2011 06:41 AM

If you are looking at buying a home right now, whether you realize it or not, you are a dying breed.

Panicked over rising prices, first timers helped drives sales during the housing bubble, eager to grab a home, any home, while they still could.

First-time buyers made a short-lived comeback in late 2009 and early 2010 when Uncle Sam started doling out $8,000 a pop to anyone buying a house for the first time.

But we all know what happened after that. The tax credit money stopped flowing in April 2010 and first-time buyers went into hiding again, triggering the double dip in home prices we are now mired in.

Here's a pretty interesting take on some of the barriers that are keeping first-time buyers out of the market. These range from a high unemployment rate for younger workers, to skittish banks seeking downpayments that now average 22 percent.

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When it comes to retirement time, will thrifty renters get the last laugh?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 30, 2011 10:38 AM

Who is better off financially now, renters or buyers?

Homeowners long held an edge in this perennial argument.

After all, prices just kept on rising year after year. Throw in that nice federal tax break and why rent?

But that may be changing, and fast. Price increases, unless you live in a boutique town or neighborhood in high demand, have become a thing of the past.

And suddenly homeownership is no longer the savings/investment vehicle it once was. For the unwise or unlucky, it's now clear it can be one way ticket to foreclosure and financial distress.

Now researchers in academia are starting to come up with some hard numbers that could help those on the fence, wavering between buying and renting, make better decisions.

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Faint glimmers of a real estate rebound?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 29, 2011 01:46 PM

Home sales are up and prices are down across Massachusetts, new reports out today show.

Sales rose more than 5 percent in October, to 3,189, while prices fell 7 percent, to a median price of $270,000, from October, 2010, reports The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors released similiar stats showing  a 2.7 percent bump up in sales and a 5 percent drop in prices.

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Who really benefits from holiday home selling?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 28, 2011 06:48 AM

Well it's an important question to ask before you decide to liven up your holiday festivities with a few open houses.

In fact, there a lively debate out there in Realtor Land as to whether you should either keep your home on the market between Thanksgiving and January or even put it on as a new listing.

OK, there appear to be more than a few agents out there ready to try and sell your house between now and New Year's Day.

After all, times are tough in real estate right now and they need all the listings they can get.

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Time for a Black Friday for real estate?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 23, 2011 06:17 AM

Malls and retailers are pulling out all the stops to get shoppers in their stores come Friday morning.

And, as savvy salespeople, they know that the lure of good stuff cheap is enough to draw a crowd in the chilly early morning hours after Thanksgiving.

Now it would be going too far to say that real estate agents are taking weekend after Thanksgiving off.

I did find listings for a couple hundred open houses this weekend scattered across Eastern Massachusetts.

But I saw only a few efforts, all from past years, to try and make any connection with Black Friday - such as "Black Friday open house."

Too bad given all the shoppers who will be out on the roads come Friday.

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Newest threat to battered housing market? The baby bust

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 22, 2011 09:06 AM

If you are holding off on having children, you are certainly not alone in during these hard times.

The number of births across the country has fallen to the lowest levels in more than a decade, Bloomberg reports.

It follows a now well worn pattern in which couples put plans for children on hold during tough times, with the most dramatic example being the Great Depression, when birth rates fell 20 percent.

By contrast, Massachusetts has seen a decline of about 4 percent, in line with the national average.

So what does this have to do with the housing market? Well a lot.

Yes, families with children are just one segment of the housing market. That said, an expanding family can often be found behind many a house hunt, whether it's a couple making a jump from an apartment to a starter home or a small but growing family looking for something bigger.

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When it comes to that dream home, high prices have local buyers looking far afield

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 21, 2011 09:16 AM

OK, so where are local buyers looking as they hunt for a home they can afford?

I had Trulia send me a couple lists. The first is the top ten markets local buyers in Greater Boston are looking at, as measured by queries on the search engine.

The western suburbs - Cambridge, Newton, Framingham - are the top market in terms of searches. Buyers, even here in pricey Greater Boston, are still inclined to look in their back yards.

But after that it gets interesting, with lower cost markets like Worcester, Portland, Providence and Southern New Hampshire rounding dominating the top ten.

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What? No one wants to move here?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 18, 2011 12:09 PM

Check out this new report by Trulia. It puts Boston - and Washington, D.C. as well - at the bottom of the heap in terms of interest by potential home buyers from other parts of the country.

Trulia takes a snapshot of online house hunting habits and comes away with some interesting findings. In particular, the online real estate site looks at the markets potential buyers, and for that matter renters, are searching from, and then matches it up with the metro areas they are looking at.

Basically, Boston comes in No. 3 in the top 10 markets where there are lots of people looking elsewhere for new homes and apartments, but not a lot of folks looking in.

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Will the flood of apartment construction lower rents? Don’t bank on it

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 17, 2011 08:17 AM

Yes, we are seeing a mini boom in new rental construction. Developers with plans for five new apartment high-rises are set to get a green light from the Boston Redevelopment Authority tonight, the Globe reports.

That should add another 1,400 units to the thousands already in construction or in the pipeline, both in Boston and the suburbs.

But don't get your hopes up that this flood of new supply will magically bring down now soaring rents. It's just not going to happen.

Downtown apartment towers are for the young and upscale and the older and wealthy - these are hardly bastions of middle and working class family housing. And while many of the new suburban rental developments may not pack the height of the urban counterparts, but they are pitched at a decidedly upscale market.

Nothing wrong with that, but there's not going to be much trickle down here when it comes to lowering rents for the rest of the market. Sure, there will be more luxury units for well off empty nesters to pick from, but it's hard to see that having any impact on apartment rents in Hyde Park or Dorchester.

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If you don't buy now, will you regret it later?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 15, 2011 10:49 AM

OK, Gerri Willis certainly doesn't mince words.

I chatted with the Fox Business Network anchor in advance of a "housing summit" she hosted on her nightly consumer and personal finance show, The Willis Report.

Willis can hold forth with the best of them on the latest housing market woes and how the sector's implosion is dragging the whole economy down.

But when it comes to doling out the individual advice, Willis, whose specialty is personal finance, is very much a housing bull.

Basically, rates are at historic lows and prices are down roughly 30 percent. If you want to buy a house, this is the time to do it. Look carefully, though, at the health of your local economy - in the end jobs and real estate are closely intertwined, she argues.

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"Scare tactics" keeping buyers out of the market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 14, 2011 07:04 AM

OK, to put it another way, is the media to blame for keeping buyers on the sideline?

That's what the chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders appeared to be getting at during a panel discussion Friday evening on Fox Business Network.

"Basically, buyers are being misled by these scare tactics of big drops in individual (markets)," argued the NAHB's David Crowe in a "housing summit" led by anchor Gerri Willis.

Instead, buyers should be focused on the market in their town or neighborhood, he said.

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Are home prices headed for a triple-dip?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 10, 2011 06:24 AM

Maybe, given the latest grim tidings on the nation's battered housing market.

The Fiserv Case-Shiller Indexes are now projecting another 3.6 percent drop in home prices across the country through next June.

Ouch!

And the Bay State is not likely to escape the undertow, with various submarkets expected to see declines of anywhere from 2.8 to 4.5 percent, according to the Wisconsin-based housing market tracker.

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Want to buy in Greater Boston? Making at least six figures helps

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 9, 2011 06:16 AM

He certainly stirred the pot. Commenting on my post yesterday on how the Boston area remains one of the most expensive in the country to buy in, VincenteP argued a family needs to make $250,000 to buy a house and live a typical middle class lifestyle here.

In Boston a family needs to make $250K just to have a "middle class" experience that $70K would buy in most other parts of the country. Oh the culture, right. Except that companies have started to realize this as well and have moved their jobs elsewhere. No jobs, housing prices will come down.

Not surprisingly, that $250,000 number got some people pretty worked up.

Here's Lance:

Anybody who can't make $250K/yr work in Boston is either spoiled, financially clueless, or has an inveterate gambling/drug habit.

While I think $250,000 is too high, it gets to a key point. It takes more to live a middle class life - complete with a single-family home large enough for a kid or two - than in most other parts of the country. And to do so, you need to earn considerably more than you would than, say, in North Dakota or Upstate New York.

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When it comes to high home prices, Greater Boston still near the top

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 8, 2011 05:55 AM

Only New York and California's top three metro markets are more expensive to buy a house in, Zillow finds in its latest quarterly report.

Of the nation's 25 top metro markets, the Boston area comes in at No. 5, with a median home value of $319,000.

While San Francisco remains king, at $467,400, we are not that far behind New York ($348,000), San Diego ($344,000), and Los Angeles ($387,000).

And we are still near the top despite a nearly 20 percent decline across the Boston area in median prices since the market peaked here in 2005.

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Falls sales fizzle?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 2, 2011 12:07 PM
The traditional fall foliage is apparently not the only thing that's hard to find as we head into November. Buyers are apparently pretty scarce as well.

The latest homes sales numbers are out and they look tough.

Pending home sales - contracts signed but not closed yet - fell 2 percent in October over September across the state, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports.

Instead of hitting open houses and putting houses under agreement as the fall market kicked in, home buyers instead appear to be taking a step back.

Nationally, pending sales fell 4.6 percent in September from August, the National Association of Realtors reports.

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Don't like power outages? Consider the town you buy in

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 1, 2011 02:07 PM

OK, no one is going to hunt for a house on the basis of whether the area is prone to power outages.

Still, as we endure the second week-long power outage in three months, it might be an issue at least considering.

And, oddly enough, if you are so inclined, there is a way to figure this out.

As you look at a community's schools and other services, also check out whether the town runs its own electric utility or relies on one of the big power companies, NStar and National Grid.

If it does, there's a good bet that your lights will be coming on much faster than those of your friends in the town next door serviced by one the big utilities.

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Despite everything, homeowners still dreaming of big returns

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 28, 2011 09:26 AM

Here's a scary number. As many as 42 percent of homeowners across the country think prices typically rise about 7 percent a year, according to a new survey by Zillow.

Of course, the real number is much lower, on average 2-5 percent a year. And of course, that's an historic average with the ups and downs of the market smoothed out.

The last time I checked - just this morning actually - we are still locked in a historic downturn that has seen home values fall as much as 30 percent or more in some markets.

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In pricing her house, Dionysia thinks she’s being realistic. But is she?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 27, 2011 06:52 AM

She's been at it for ten months now, but Dionysia can't find a buyer for her renovated Victorian.

In fact, she's hasn't even gotten an offer on her house, located in the downtown of a "small MetroWest city," with just a modest pickup in traffic through the house this fall after a completely dead summer.

Dionysia wonders where she has gone wrong.

After all, she's priced her house at just $6,000 above what she paid for it eight years ago. And that's despite having pumped more than $100,000 into everything from a new roof.

Here's what she had to say in a comment on my recent blog on sellers who get insulted by low-ball bidders.

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Looking for new construction in Greater Boston? Good luck

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 26, 2011 06:11 AM

After a modest rebound in 2010, new home construction is plunging again across the Boston area.

The number of building permits issued by local cities and towns is set to sink below 4,500 in 2011, the worst showing in more than two decades and apparently eclipsing even 2009, according to a new report out by the Boston Foundation.

Not that 2010 was any great shakes. While an improvement over the Great Recession year of 2009, the number of homes built, even amidst the home buyer tax credit frenzy, was just half of what it was in 2005.

And guess what? Not even 2005 was all that great - even during the bubble years the number of new homes built across Greater Boston had fallen to just a  fraction what was put up during the 1980s.

Now of course housing construction does drop during hard times, but our declines are part of a longer, systemic problem that now spans decades.

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Are you underwater? Should the bank give you a break?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 25, 2011 06:51 AM

Underwater homeowners would get a lifeline of sorts under the Obama Administration's latest housing market rescue plan.

While interest rates have fallen to unbelievable lows, many homeowners can't refinance. After years of falling prices, they simply owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

But underwater homeowners, as long as they have made all their mortgage payments on time in the past six months and meet a few other basic criteria, such as being gainfully employed, would be eligible for a new refinance product just rolled out by the Obama Administration.

The savings could prove substantial, with $3,000 in savings each year on a $200,000 mortgage that is refinanced from 6 percent down to 4.5 percent, according to this explanatory piece put out by the Associated Press.

Given higher home prices here in Greater Boston, that could amount to $6,000 in savings a year for a homeowner with a $400,000 mortgage.

An estimated 230,000 homeowners across Massachusetts are underwater on their mortgages, owing an average of $120,000 more than what their properties are actually worth now, CoreLogic reports. That's more than 15 percent of everyone who owns a home in the state.

It's a breathtaking gap, created in part by our crazy home prices. Nationally, underwater borrowers owe on average $65,000 more on their homes than they are currently worth.

All that said, there are a couple of red flags here.

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If it was up to local Realtors, Obama would lose in a landslide

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 24, 2011 06:13 AM

The Bay State may still be perceived as a liberal stronghold, but the president does not appear to be getting a lot of love from local real estate agents.

A startling 78 percent of Massachusetts real estate agents polled by HomeGain "strongly disapprove" of the Obama's performance.

The survey, taken in the third quarter amid a pileup of bad housing market news and the fallout from a tough spring market, is a big jump from the roughly 50 percent who gave the president failing grades at the start of the year.

It is further reflection of the deep quagmire the housing market has bogged down in. And while it would be unfair to blame the president for creating the housing mess we are in, he has arguably taken a bad situation and made it worse.

I'll lift here from my weekly Banker & Tradesman column, which came out today, which delves into the HomeGain poll numbers.

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Offended by a low ball offer? Really?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 20, 2011 06:35 AM

Sorry, but if you get offended because a buyer tries to strike a hard bargain, please don't come crying to me.

You may not like the offer, but to take it as a personal affront?

We are living in 2011, not 1811.

Frankly, here's where I think some sellers desperately need a reality check.

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Sellers still stubborn about negotiating?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 19, 2011 06:11 AM

Everyone haggles over everything these days. But some sellers apparently still get miffed over what they perceive as low ball offers.

That's what our friend "Frank," who surfaces from time to time to share his experiences, is finding out as he continues to look for a deal in suburban Boston.

Spying a promising $470,000 colonial north of Boston, Frank offered $425,000.

While that might sound low, it is roughly 10 percent below the asking price and above the assessed value, Frank notes.

Besides, the owners had already cut the price twice before.

But instead of countering, the owners are apparently opting to cut the price again, to $465,000.

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Instead of slashing prices, sellers are pulling out of the market, stats suggest

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 18, 2011 05:50 AM

Buyers should be cashing in right now, scooping up homes at bargain prices, but they aren't.

Instead, many sellers are refusing play, either pulling their homes off the market or opting not to sell in the first place.

A growing problem locally - I recently blogged about it here - the decline in decent inventory is also starting to become a major issue in other metro markets across the country.

The number of homes on the market has dropped by 20 percent across the country through the end of September, according to a new report by Realtor.com.

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Economist stirs controversy - with sunny housing forecast

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 14, 2011 06:02 AM

Is Mark Zandi ahead of the curve or just full of it?

A few years ago, it was the outspoken bears like Nouriel Roubini who faced raised eyebrows over their predictions of a global housing and economic meltdown.

Now Mark Zandi, Moody's Analytics chief economist, is stirring controversy with his relatively upbeat forecasts for the housing market, even as fears of another recession intensify.

The nation's No. 1 talking head economist, Zandi offered up his latest pep talk to a national gathering of mortgage bankers in Chicago earlier this week.

And it was a message that was likely a crowd pleaser for his audience, desperate for any scrap of good news.

Let;s go right to the Dow Jones article.

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Drop in homes on market, while good nationally, is a very bad sign here

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 13, 2011 05:20 AM

For-sale signs are a little harder to spot this fall.

The number of homes for sale is dropping, both across the country and here in Massachusetts.

And while the drop in "inventory," as it's called in the business, might be good news in a grossly overbuilt market like Las Vegas, it is definitely bad news here, especially in still pricey Greater Boston.

Here are two numbers to munch on from a piece in this week's Banker & Tradesman.

The number of homes on the market was down 5.3 percent in August compared to a year earlier. July saw a 1.7 percent year-over-year drop in inventory.

Meanwhile, sales activity, while still anemic, has begun to pick up after hitting rock bottom last summer with the expiration of the home buyer tax credit, may it rest in peace. Sales rose 15.8 percent in August compared to August 2010, the paper reports, citing figures from real estate data firm, The Warren Group, its parent company.

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Does the tough real estate market/economy have older Boomers sitting on their homes?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 12, 2011 06:47 AM
That's what a new Coldwell Banker survey suggests.

Roughly 87 percent of agents of real estate agents surveyed by the company cited the poor economy as delaying plans by Baby Boomers to sell their homes.

That includes a fair number of older Boomers (56-64) nearing retirement, sitting on suburban homes they had planned to sell, but now presumably waiting until the real estate market and economy settle out.

Many of these older Boomers, in turn, would like to downsize to a condo or townhome, according to roughly half the agents surveyed.


It's a significant finding for Greater Boston, which suffers from a chronic lack of decent inventory.


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Amid rental spikes, is buying looking better again?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 5, 2011 05:25 AM

The apartment market has long been a haven for skittish buyers in Greater Boston.

But soaring rents may be poised to shift that calculus, making renting as costly as buying in some cases.

The median rent for a two bedroom in Boston and its suburbs is nearing the $2,000 mark, according to a new survey by Champagne, Illinois-based rental market data cruncher Cazoodle.

That's a 13.3 percent jump this year through September compared to the same period last year.

It's also far above a handful of other cities that Cazoodle ran stats on, with Washington metro, at $1,875, the closest, and Chicago, the Twin Cities and Baltimore well behind these market leaders, so to speak.

So what does this do to the rent-versus-buy calculus?

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No recovery in home prices until 2020?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 4, 2011 05:14 AM

That's what the nation's bankers are predicting in a survey just released by FICO.

Nearly half  - or 49 percent - of risk management officers surveyed at banks across the country don't see home prices climbing back to 2007 levels for nearly another decade.

By comparison, just 21 percent thought prices would rebound before the decade ends.
An even larger number - 73 percent - are banking on foreclosures being a major problem for at least another five years. About half, 46 percent expect mortgage delinquencies, the first step towards an eventual foreclosure, to rise over the next six months.

OK, I haven't exactly been breathlessly following FICO's surveys, so I guess I missed this, but the bankers are apparently feeling markedly sour as of late after a burst of relative optimism early this year.

So what does this mean for Massachusetts, and in particular, for the Greater Boston market?

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How's your fall market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 30, 2011 05:52 AM

OK, here's your chance to weigh in and share what you know. Fire away. I will feature the most scintillating entries in a post next week.

Now here are my questions for you.

For buyers looking at homes or condos, here in Greater Boston, or elsewhere, for that matter, what is your impression of prices and selection? Are there attractive options in your price range? Are sellers still holding out - or ready to cut a deal?

What towns and neighborhoods have the best bargains right now? Conversely, what zip codes are overpriced, in your estimation?

For sellers, what kind of demand are you seeing? Are you getting traffic at open houses? Have you had to cut your asking price? And if so, by how much? Also, are you using a real estate agent, or are you going it alone?

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Just in time for fall market, a spike in foreclosures

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 29, 2011 06:07 AM

Half decent homes at more reasonable prices - that sums up we need more of here in Greater Boston.

We can poke fun all day at Miami and Las Vegas and other grossly overbuilt markets, but at least there is no lack of new homes to pick from.

But instead of new homes or at least older ones in good repair, we are getting more getting more foreclosures, according to a report out this morning by The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

Foreclosures took a nose dive last fall, both in the Bay State and across the country, after the robo-signing scandal blew and revealed that major lenders were running shoddy, assembly-line style foreclosure mills.

Now foreclosure deeds - the last step in the process - are on the rise again across the state. And with the steady proliferation of distressed properties into the suburbs - I have one right around the corner from me here in Natick - the increase could cast a much wider pall than in years past.

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Greater Boston home prices still inflated?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 28, 2011 05:47 AM

I'm still waiting, but so far the double dip has failed to bring about the deep home price reductions here in Greater Boston that some frustrated buyers are longing for.

The latest Case-Shiller numbers show a 1.9 percent decline in Boston area home prices this July from July 2010.

Frankly, it's modest decline. And it's far from the wrenching realignment that seemed in order after the expiration of the home buyer tax credit last year sent sales plunging off a cliff.

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Greater Boston wins skimpy price cut award

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 27, 2011 05:56 AM

As I sip my morning coffee, I am looking over a list of the nation's top 20 metro markets sent over by Trulia.

It was set up to mirror the cities in the much watched Case-Shiller index, the latest installment of which is due out later this morning.

And the Boston area leaps out for having the smallest average price cut on a list of markets that stretches from San Diego to Dallas to New York.

When Miami area homeowners decide to lower their asking price, they knock it down by a meaty 11 percent.

In Atlanta and Tampa, it is 9 percent, and in 11 other markets the average cut weighs in at a still substantial 7 to 8 percent.

But in Greater Boston? Our home sellers can muster up only a relatively measly 5 percent discount.

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When it comes to prices, downturn hard to find in Greater Boston

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 22, 2011 05:29 AM

So how far have prices fallen in the Boston area since the peak of the bubble in 2005?

Well, about a whopping 3 percent, according to quarterly numbers put out by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

We do a lot of jabbering on this blog about the big decline in home prices.

And yes, statewide, we have been hit pretty hard - nationally even worse.

But when it comes to Boston and the cities and towns that make up its western and southern suburbs, it's a much different picture.

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“Gen Rent” still longing to buy?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 21, 2011 06:30 AM

So says Trulia in its latest American Dream survey.

More than 65 percent of Millennials consider home ownership as part of their "personal American dream," according to a recent Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the real estate website. R

It's an age group - 18 to 34 - where renting has supposedly become the new ideal amid the never ending downturn in home sales and prices.

In fact, the Millennials are almost as bullish as the somewhat older Gen Xers, 66 percent of whom are still sold on the idea of homeownership.

Yet it's the Baby Boomers who are the most bullish of all. Of those in their pre-retirement years, 74 percent are still high on homeownership, with the number rising to 76 percent for those 55 and older.

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Tinkering with your house? You are definitely not alone

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 20, 2011 05:57 AM

One of the biggest trends in real estate now is also largely one of the most under-reported as well.

As homeowners find themselves unable to sell and move up, they are staying put and fixing up instead.

The big renovation/remodeling indexes, typically focused on larger projects, have not really picked up on this.

But think about it, what are you hearing about when you chat with your neighbors or friends? I know I hear about practical, budget-friendly fix-ups designed to make a house more livable for the long-term, with resale value a secondary thought.

BuildFax is hoping to fill this info void, with a new index that tracks permits pulled.

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What's your list of the best places to live?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 19, 2011 09:45 AM

OK, you can pick Bermuda if you want, but I am thinking much more locally, such as Greater Boston.

My inspiration on this chilly but bright Monday morning comes from CNN Money's list of the top 100 places to live.

There are five Boston area towns on the list - thanks to Banker & Tradesman for pointing this out. Milton is No. 2 on the CNN Money list, followed by, in no particular order, Sharon, Acton, Chelmsford and Easton.

All fine towns, but reading the descriptions, it's hard not to have the sneaking suspicion that these communities were simply drawn out of a hat.

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How well do you know your new neighbors?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 16, 2011 06:23 AM

The kid who got busted after turning his apartment on a quiet Arlington Street into an urban pot farm got me thinking.

Despite the windows being covered with dark plastic, neighbors of the $520,000 Cleveland Street duplex, some of whom have lived on the street for decades, never noticed anything amiss.

Still, the college student has good taste in real estate. After all, you could do worse that Arlington - you could easily shell out $550,000 to $600,000 to buy a home in the area.

There were a couple stories after that about even more flagrant neighbor antics - this Roxbury house was being used as a brothel.

When you are looking at buying a house or condo, you inevitably end up gambling when it comes to your new neighbors.

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Is market reality finally catching up to homeowners?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 14, 2011 06:31 AM

The short answer is everywhere else but here.

A survey just out by HomeGain suggests a big shift in attitudes toward the real estate market.

Half of all homeowners across the country now believe prices are headed down over the next six months.

That's a marked increase from the second quarter, when just 30 percent of homeowners were bracing for more price declines.

Despite now years of falling sales and prices, the ever optimistic American homeowner has been confidently predicting a real estate market turnaround is just around the corner. Until now that is.

Yet as usual, homeowners here in the Bay State, are once again defying common sense as they buck this trend towards greater realism.

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When it comes to schools, bargain towns

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 13, 2011 06:12 AM

If you have money to burn and want your children to go to school in Dover - where the median sale price tops $1 million - well then go for it.

I'd still take a bookworm in a middling school system any day - I think chasing academic brands is foolish.

But that's just me. I must fess up here - I hated (K-12) school and spent as much of my time buried in a book - often at home - as possible.

Still, even here in pricey Greater Boston, most of us can't buy our way into the elite towns - and maybe wouldn't if we could.

Boston magazine's ranking of the area's schools has some big flaws, but at least it provides a rough sketch of what's out there. (The Dover-Sherborn district is No. 1 on the magazine's list.)

In my post yesterday about town/school shopping, I thought woodenhippo offered up a good, no nonsense analysis of how to squeeze some value out of the rankings.

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Stormy fall ahead for home prices?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 9, 2011 06:09 AM

So says Clear Capital in its latest survey of real estate values across the country.

Plummeting consumer confidence and stubbornly high unemployment could make for a tough fall and an even gloomier winter, the housing market tracker predicts.

Don't worry. I am sure everyone is feeling a lot better now after Obama's big jobs speech last night!

Still, Greater Boston heads into the fall in a better position than many other markets.

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Just too scared to sell?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 1, 2011 08:24 AM

If so, well then join the club.

An often overlooked problem in our now completely dysfunctional housing market is the bruised and battered seller.

Yes, buyers are increasingly hard to find as the bad economic times roll on and home prices fall again.

But sellers who have a half decent home to unload - at a reasonable price - are the other endangered species out there in the real estate jungle.

And it is an especially chronic problem here in the Greater Boston housing market, which is overloaded with overpriced, aging homes in need of work.

Fred Breimyer, regional economist for the FDIC in Boston, offered up a telling stat when I caught up with him the other day.

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Greater Boston bucking national price trends?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 30, 2011 12:40 PM

Boston is one of the cities that led a modest June rebound in prices, according to the latest Standard & Poor's/Case Shiller report.

The Hub was behind only to Chicago and Minneapolis, with a 2.4 percent gain in home prices in June. Chicago led the 20 cities covered by the Case-Shiller index with a 3.4 percent gain.

Monthly numbers, especially when you are dealing with the spring market, the traditional sales season, can be tricky if not downright misleading. A lot of this is just probably hype based on season changes.

In fact, on a year-over-year basis, home prices are actually down in the Boston metro market by 2.1 percent.

But there's the catch as well - the market began falling again a year ago and all we have to show for it is a lousy 2.1 percent drop in home prices? Hardly red meat for potential buyers.

The double dip in prices, at least when it comes to the core of the Boston market, so far is shaping up to be fairly wimpy. Sure, sales are down and have yet to recover, but prices remain extremely sticky.

Anyone banking on the Boston area finally become a buyers' market may have a very long wait ahead of them.

Desperate times, desperate measures. Proposal to guarantee rock bottom mortgage rates for all takes flight

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 25, 2011 07:36 AM

Life, liberty, and a guaranteed, rock bottom mortgage rate?

A proposal for a great, big national mortgage refi party may turn out to be more than talk radio/blog fodder after all.

The Obama Administration is studying plans that would guarantee a 4 percent interest rate for tens of millions of homeowners with federally backed mortgages, The New York Times reports.

I blogged about the proposal a couple weeks ago after hearing one of the proponents, a Columbia Business School prof, make the pitch on Tom Ashbrook's On Point radio program.

There are appealing aspects to the plan - bondholders, not taxpayers, would take the hit. Better yet, it would act as a giant stimulus plan for the economy, freeing up as much as $85 billion in potential consumer spending that is now being sucked into mortgage payments.

Moreover, it may not need Congressional approval, the Times notes. That would let the Obama folks sidestep all the Tea Party rock heads.

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Despite market downturn, buyers in Greater Boston still need patience/flexibility

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 24, 2011 09:25 AM

It may be a buyers' market in the rest of the country, but not so here in the Boston area.

Despite weakening prices, landing a half decent home at a price that won't break the bank is still challenging. And the closer you get to Boston, the harder it gets.

Just take Adam Waitkunas, who runs his own high-tech public affairs firm, and his girlfriend and now fiance, Kelly Mitchell.

They finally landed a Cape in Carlisle - but not after nearly a year of hunting that took them through as many as many as 30 homes. And not after having to drop hopes of landing in Lincoln or Weston.

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A sales rebound or just another mirage?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 23, 2011 09:20 AM

It's been a tough year for home sales in Massachusetts, which are down more than 16 percent so far compared to the same period in 2010.

But in a break from this downward spiral, Bay State homes sales actually jumped 7 percent in July, reports The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

It was the first increase since January.

So are we finally seeing the start of the long-awaited rebound in the real estate market?

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Behind Greater Boston’s lofty home prices, rising income

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 22, 2011 06:45 AM

This stat in a Globe story yesterday on poverty in Western Massachusetts jumped off the page at me.

The study paints a stark picture of two commonwealths, in which the gap between rich and poor, east and west is growing. For example, the inflation-adjusted median income of affluent families in Greater Boston has grown 54 percent since 1979, to $230,000 from $150,000 a year, largely due to high-paying technology jobs.

This paragraph goes a long way to explain a phenomenon that often stumps both newcomers to the Boston area's high-priced housing market and veterans as well. Given declining population, an epic real estate downturn and national economic troubles, how did housing prices get so high here and why have they been so stubborn coming down?

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Would you buy your childhood home?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 19, 2011 08:07 AM

It's the classic fantasy, returning to the neighborhood you grew up in to buy back your childhood home.

Back in the "olden days," as my five-year-old daughter calls them - though of course to her that's anything that happened before she was born, but no matter - it was more common for two or three generations of a family to live under the same roof.

But with the birth of the self sufficient, nuclear family after World War II, those days are long gone. The house and town we grow up in often has no bearing on where we eventually land. By the time we are out of college, mom and dad have already downsized to a condo or moved to a warmer climate.

That certainly was my experience. I grew up in a nice, 1970s subdivision in Norfolk, a commuter town with lots of woods and farms about 30 miles south of Boston. By a fluke, really, my sister Sandra still lives in town, so occasionally I drive by four bedroom colonial I grew up in at 8 Noon Hill Ave.

It always looks smaller than it did when I was living there - the current owners, I'm told, have taken out all that dark, 1970s wood paneling and have painted the walls. Probably stripped out the powder blue and rose red carpet as well.

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Life, liberty and the right to a guaranteed, rock-bottom mortgage rate?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 18, 2011 07:35 AM

A pair of  Columbia Business School profs have come up with a rather unique way to fix the nation's woes - they want to throw a great, big mortgage refi party for homeowners across the country.

R. Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School, and Chris Mayer, a professor of finance and economics and the school's senior vice dean, would like to refinance 30 million mortgages across the country down to a once unimaginable 4 percent.
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The duo contend this would both stabilize the reeling housing market while providing a $60 billion a year boost to an increasingly troubled economy as well. The average homeowner would wind up with hundreds of additional dollars to spend - money that is now being sucked into mortgage payments.

Mayer appeared on Tom Ashbrook's On Point radio program yesterday morning to tout the proposal.

Not exactly a pair of Ivory Tower lefties, Hubbard chaired the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush.

There's both much to be said for this idea - and some reasons to be concerned as well.

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Has a low-ball appraisal got you down?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 17, 2011 06:51 AM

If so, you are not alone.

Just over half of all agents surveyed by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors said sales in their offices have taken a hit as a result of appraisals that came in under listing prices.

A significant number of those who answered yes had seen as many as three to four sales hit by low appraisals, which, if they don't kill a sale, can lead to some frantic last minute restructuring.

In fact, the Bay State numbers are significantly worse than the national numbers, which have been rising as well. The National Association of Realtors reported that 16 percent of all sales fell through in June, up from 9 percent in June of 2010. Low-ball appraisals were the main culprit, the trade group contends.

For a growing number of would-be home sellers and buyers, the numbers appraisers are throwing out are increasingly disconnected with reality.

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Here in Greater Boston, renters, not buyers, still have the numbers on their side

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 16, 2011 08:30 AM

It is now cheaper to buy a house than rent an apartment in 74 percent of the nation's largest metro markets, Trulia's latest Rent vs. Buy Index finds.

That is just about everywhere else except for Greater Boston, which is one of the few holdouts in this trend towards dramatically cheaper homes.

OK, it's hardly a surprise that Las Vegas, the original foreclosure basket case, tops the list of markets where it's far cheaper to buy than rent.

The same goes for Detroit, where you could probably pick up a home for practically nothing if you are willing to take your chances on the sputtering Motor City.

But there are also a lot of fairly attractive metro markets where buying a home now makes more sense than renting.

It's a group that includes Baltimore and Charlotte, Atlanta and Minneapolis, Chicago and Sacramento.

Yet while home prices have plunged around the country, the decline in the Boston area has been far more tentative.

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Should we turn to big money investors to save the housing market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 15, 2011 11:07 AM

That's the Obama Administration's latest brainstorm on how to fix our ever more messed up housing market.

The Home Affordable Modification Program - now that's a mouthful - is seeking proposals from investors on what to do with hundreds of thousands of foreclosed homes sitting empty and helping drag the housing market down.

And the feds appear to be reaching out to hedge funds and other deep-pocketed investors who can scoop up large tracts of homes and convert them into rentals, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Anything is probably better than Washington's current policy of muddling/sleep walking through one of the worst housing downturns in modern history - the Journal lauds the Obama folks for looking at a private market solution.

But if the game plan is to turn all these foreclosure specials over to the big boys and girls, what happens to the small investors out there looking for a shot at fixing up a few homes and renting them out?

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In a down market, what's the best way to move up to a bigger house?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 11, 2011 07:08 AM

OK, here's my take: Sell your house first, move to a rental, and then focus on buying.

Why put yourself through the stress of trying to buy a new home while you sell your old one?

A high-wire act even during the best of times, selling while buying has become even more difficult as the pool of credit worthy buyers willing to take on a chance on falling market dwindles.

Instead, by selling first, you have the flexibility of a first time buyer coupled - hopefully - with a little cash in your pocket.

That's my take, though I suspect I am in the minority here. What's yours?

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Economists push back predictions of a housing recovery

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 10, 2011 07:05 AM

Really, this is a foolish game, trying to predict what quarter home prices will start to turn around.

Yet every housing tracker out there does it, dutifully rolling out their latest home price predictions every quarter or so, trying to pinpoint at what time in the future prices will being their long-awaited turnaround.

The latest entry in the predictions game is Fiserv, which has pushed back by another three months the date at which it believes the market will shift into recovery mode.

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From a would-be home buyer, a desperate plan to escape Greater Boston prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 9, 2011 07:25 AM

Bynxers thinks he's found a solution to Greater Boston's home price conundrum. He's even dubbed it the "Third Way."

I'll give him A for creativity, but I think it boils down to another variation on a now well worn path - moving to a cheaper home well beyond the 495 ring and settling for an epic commute.

Here's how Bynxers, who has managed to wrangle three days of telecommuting a week from his boss, pitched his idea in a recent comment.

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Is the economy changing your housing plans?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 8, 2011 09:00 AM

Like a lot of people, I thought once a debt default had been averted, things would go back to normal.

Normal as in sluggish economy and messed up housing market - all familiar terrain right now.

I even suggested in my post last Monday that avoiding a debt default had averted Armageddon in the housing market.

Now it looks like I wrote too soon.

OK, so Congress, despite the block headed posturing of the last few weeks, wasn't so completely senseless as to force the United States to default on its debts, effectively pushing the economy off the cliff. But it came pretty darn close - earning an unprecedented 82 percent disapproval rating.

In fact, the long and debilitating debt default debate, coupled with Standard & Poor's decision to jump on the bandwagon and downgrade the federal government's long-held AAA debt rating, has taken its toll.

And anyone who suggests all this won't have a profound impact on the housing market is beyond clueless.

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Homeownership a fundamental right?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 5, 2011 07:54 AM

OK, the idea is completely loopy, but you know what they say about California being a trend setter.

So it will be interesting to see whether a proposal out in the Golden State to ban all foreclosures - and force banks to refinance homes at lower rates - makes it onto the ballot.

Sacramento resident David Benson is on a mission to gather more than 800,000 signatures to put a question on the state ballot that would radically amend the California constitution.

Benson's proposal would make homeownership a "fundamental right." And it would not only bar banks from foreclosing on homeowners who fall behind on their mortgages, but it would also require lenders to refinance a mortgage at a lower rate - and a minimum cost - within 45 days!

Wow, now how's that for service? That's not all, with banks also required to knock down the principal on underwater homes as well.

Of course, this looks more like a way of sticking it to the banks - a protest vote - than a serious proposal.

Still, I wouldn't underestimate the level of anger out there toward the banking /lending industry that proposals like this one illuminate.

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Despite spring fling, home prices still stumbling

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 4, 2011 09:50 AM

Home prices bounced back somewhat during the spring selling season.

But it wasn't enough to reverse the double dip, with prices still down nationally nearly 8 percent for the year, Clear Capital finds in a newly released report.

The Northeast, and in particular the Greater Boston market, fared considerably better than the rest of the country. The Northeast saw prices rise 5.2 percent this spring over the abysmal winter months. That said, home prices are still down nearly 3 percent from July 2010.

Greater Boston, which the survey defines as a broad stretch encompassing the pricey western suburbs, posted a 7.6 percent gain in home prices, spring over winter. Prices, however, are still down 1.4 percent from July 2010.

The New York metro area fared even better. Home prices rose 6.7 percent in the spring, for a net gain, year over year, of 1.5 percent.

Still, as far as home prices go, this may be as good as it gets this year. We are now in the doldrums of the summer market, and if you couldn't find a buyer this spring, you are either looking at price reduction or pulling your home off the market.

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She wants to trade up, but can’t find anything decent under $600,000

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 3, 2011 08:15 AM

The more things change, the more they stay the same in our perpetually inflated Greater Boston housing market.

Prices may be coming down again, but it has been a long, slow and grudging decline here in the Boston area. And if you look at towns within the 128 belt, well it's hard to see all that much of a drop in prices from the peak years of 2004/2005.

Frankly, if you have a half decent house and don't have to sell, why would you right now?

That brings me to jhwilly's lament yesterday in the comments section on my post about the endangered species of the housing market, the move-up buyer.

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Move-up buyers, where have you gone?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 2, 2011 09:17 AM

Here's an interesting take from Calculated Risk on the endangered species of the housing market - the move-up buyer.
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First time buyers have increasingly become the sole source of demand in the sputtering housing market. After all, all they have to do is give notice to their landlord.

By contrast, homeowners looking to trade up can't move up until they can find a buyer for their home.

And, of course, the family selling the home you want to buy may be faced with the same dilemma, and so on.

It's a chain of transactions that during good times we all take for granted, but during bad times, can become highly problematic.

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Armageddon averted for battered housing market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 1, 2011 09:51 AM

Maybe, if Congress can get its act together and pass a compromise bill today to keep Uncle Sam from becoming the biggest deadbeat in history.

If the federal government were to start default on its debts, it could have catastrophic consequences for the economy and, by extension, the housing market.

A still stubbornly high unemployment remains one of the biggest obstacles to a housing recovery, argues Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

A prolonged debt default could very well trigger another severe downturn, throwing another 2 million people out of work while sending interest rates soaring.

That's obviously just what the housing market needs right now as it flounders amid another round of falling prices and sales.

"The downside of a default is massive," McBride said. "It is the reason we teach our kids to look both ways before they cross the street."

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Is debt default spooking home buyers?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 28, 2011 07:06 AM

The doomsday-like debt default countdown looms over the housing market like the sword of Damocles.

After all, along with an economy that seems perilously close to shifting into reverse, the debt debate fiasco down in Washington is not exactly a confidence builder for potential home buyers.

But has it begun to truly hit home with individual buyers, prompting them to put decisions on hold or even bail after putting homes under agreement?

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More double talk from housing experts?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 27, 2011 08:39 AM

The Case-Shiller housing indices are the gold standard of the real estate industry, tracking resales of existing homes across the country.

But my head is aching after reading the press release on the numbers by the S&P Indices, which puts out the crucial market gauge devised by Karl Case, professor emeritus at Wellesley College, and Yale University economist Robert Shiller.

The numbers clearly show continued year-over-year declines in housing prices - Greater Boston prices were down 3.2 percent in May.

Yet the press release starts off touting seasonal increases seen in several cities in May over this April, the heart of the spring sales season.

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Bay State home sales: Worst June since 1991

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 26, 2011 07:21 AM

Home sales plunged more than 23 percent in June, the fifth straight month of double-digit declines, reports The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

In fact, the 4,313 homes sold last month marked the worst June since 1991, when there were 4,243 sales.

Of course, that low point was set during another brutal recession that hit Greater Boston and New England particularly hard compared to the rest of the country.

The early 1990s were a tough time for the Massachusetts economy and real estate market here in particular. The 1990s may have ended amid the happier times of the tech boom, but the decade started with an epic bust that featured a collapse in home sales and prices after a big run up during the Reagan years.

Sounds familiar, but with national bankruptcy looming, it's not clear whether we get the happy ending this time around.

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Could fall bring another big price tumble?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 22, 2011 01:50 PM

Maybe, suggests a new report by Radar Logic, which argues the weak spring market may be a precursor to even deeper price declines this fall.

Home prices nationally fell nearly 6 percent in May - the most rapid decline since September, 2009. Overall, year-over year price declines have been accelerating since June 2010 in the wake of the expiration of the home buyer tax credit, according to Radar Logic.

Come fall, prices will hit a new "post-bust lows," Radar Logic predicts

On that cheery note, have a great weekend.

The savviest sellers? Homeowners who bought during the bubble

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 21, 2011 09:00 AM

Ah, all those poor buyers who bought during the bubble years. It's hard to find a more maligned group out there. Basically, if you paid some sky-high price for your home back in 2004 or 2005, everyone assumes you are a fool who jumped on the bubble band wagon.

But it turns out that maybe those bubble years' buyers aren't so foolish after all, at least when it comes to figuring out what their homes are worth now. In fact, they may have a better grasp of current market reality than those who bought later during the bust, or for that matter homeowners like me who bought just before the big run up in prices began, according to a new report by Zillow.com.

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Once in a generation buyer's market

Posted by Rona Fischman July 20, 2011 02:28 PM

Steve Harney listed the many sources that make arguments for why it is a great time to buy. I am about to be eaten by bears, but so be it. Readers who want to know these reasons should follow these links:

The Wall Street Journal

CBS Money Watch

Forbes Magazine

National Public Radio

While the bears a tearing me limb from limb, here are some additional thoughts:

Price are down, some. Interest rates are great for those qualified to borrow. But don’t expect to see me in a short skirt with pompoms anytime soon. This is a better time than the mid-zeros. But it hasn’t turned me into a cheerleader, yet.

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Twenty percent down has Realtors in fighting mood

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 20, 2011 07:59 AM

OK, most of us already know the National Association of Realtors has been lobbying desperately against the proposal in Washington to require 20 percent down on most mortgages.

But this is clearly more than just a lobbying game - rank and file real estate agents are also seeing red on this key issue.

Just take the results of this recent poll on the 20 percent down issue by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, which found near universal opposition among agents to requiring hefty down payments.

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First half year, in review

Posted by Rona Fischman July 19, 2011 02:27 PM

On July 5th, Steve Harney published his top five important developments in real estate for the first half of 2011.

1. The government is making an effort to limit its involvement with the lending business with talk of closing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and mortgage reform in the form of Quality Residential Mortgage (QRM) guidelines.

2. After adjusting for the tax credit boom-let of 2010, negative sales volume data is tempered by increased pending sales.

3. Sales prices are stabilizing.

4. Foreclosures have been delayed by legal and procedural issues. Foreclosures are expected to resume, in large numbers, soon.

5. Everyone’s screaming, “buy now!” (except Rona!)

I’ve seen and heard Mr. Harney. He is very engaging and explains things clearly. I don’t always agree with how he uses statistics or with his conclusions. But, he is among the most influential writers out there. Therefore, he deserves a hearing here at BREN.

What is your take on these top stories? Do you think they are the most important stories?

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As rents rise, these neighborhoods lead the pack

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 19, 2011 06:51 AM

Here are the four most expensive Boston/Cambridge neighborhoods for renters:

  • Kendall Square - average asking price of $2,760.
  • East Cambridge - average asking price of $2,732
  • Seaport - average asking price of $2,711
  • Charlestown - average asking price of $2,515

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Are foreclosures distorting our view of the housing market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 15, 2011 06:00 AM

If you subtract out foreclosure sales, the downward trend in home prices starts to look somewhat less dire.

Yet does it really make sense to do this?

The issue recently came up in Philadelphia, where a recent analysis of that city's housing market shows that two-thirds of the latest drop in housing prices was due to foreclosures and short sales selling for dirt-cheap prices.

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Real estate stat junkies, this one’s for you

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 14, 2011 06:00 AM

Check out this Forbes piece. It breaks down the various real estate indexes - Case-Shiller, Clear Capital - and looks at how they stack up with each other.

Given the profusion of real estate numbers and websites and firms tracking them, it's a helpful peek inside the sausage factory.

Still, I take issue with the main theme - the fluctuations of Case-Shiller or whatever your index of choice is don't really have much meaning for the average homeowner.

It's a safe, conventional argument, but it no longer holds the water it once did.

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Having a hard time getting a mortgage?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 13, 2011 06:53 AM

If so, I want to hear from you.

The nation's ten largest banks nixed nearly 27 percent of all mortgage applications last year, The Wall Street Journal recently reported.

That's actually up from the recession year of 2009, when the big banks turned down 23.5 percent of all mortgage applications.

In Vermont, Mississippi and Texas, the banks rejected 40 percent of all mortgage applications. Apparently Massachusetts and Minnesota were on the lower end, in terms of rejections, though I couldn't find the exact rates.

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Unemployed and hanging on?

Posted by Rona Fischman July 12, 2011 01:57 PM

Three or so years into the recession, there is an increasing number of people in mortgage default who used to be part of the middle class. House owners who have savings can hold out longer through their periods of unemployment or underemployment. By cutting back on expenses and draining their savings, they pay their mortgages. Eventually, those who did not get reemployed at their previous level fell into default, as their savings drained down too far to hold on.

Early in the foreclosure wave, people who bought farther beyond their ability to repay and developers who were over-extended fell hard and fell early. Those no-longer-allowed mortgages -- that were destined to fail as soon as real estate appreciation stopped -- lead to the first wave of mortgage defaults. Massachusetts saw these early defaults.

The foreclosures and distressed sales now in Massachusetts are part of the second wave. The middle-class wave. The unemployment wave. According to Jeffrey Chubb, in Massachusetts and Boston metro area it is a wave, not a tsunami. Massachusetts, and especially metro Boston, remains below the national average.

But, for unemployed or underemployed house owners, it doesn’t matter how many there are. It matters that they are just hanging on. If you know someone who is hanging on, July 22 is an important deadline for them.

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Is it still worth it buying a "starter home" here in Greater Boston?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 11, 2011 06:47 AM

No, and for a very simple reason: The Boston area has a lot of things, but starter homes are not one of them.

We simply don't have the vast subdivisions of new homes, ready and waiting for first-time buyers that you can find in many Sunbelt cities.

That's not to say builders aren't putting up any new homes in Greater Boston - even in the worst of times, such as right now, a builder or two can be found adding a home or two to a subdivision somewhere out in Acton or Southborough.

But here's the rub: If that new home is built within the 128 belt, given that prices still remain near their bubble years' peak in upscale suburbs like Wellesley or Newton, you are likely looking at an overpriced McMansion.

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A boomer blasts back

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 9, 2011 06:05 AM

So who's to blame for the housing mess?

Last Friday, I somewhat facetiously suggested that all those greedy boomers were responsible for the worst housing crisis since at least the Great Depression.

Now, to be fair, I want to give boomers a chance to defend their generation's honor - and better yet, blame all those irksome Gen Xers and Gen Yers for all our current housing market woes.

To get things rolling, I will start off with a comment by ISchmidlapp. He contends the younger couples in his town have been the ones leveraging to buy the McMansions, all under the guise of doing right by their children. By contrast, the boomers in his neighborhood were all happy to buy and fix up 1950s capes and ranches.

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Another 20 percent plunge in home prices?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 8, 2011 06:00 AM

Well that's what economist Gary Shilling is predicting.

A true doom and gloomer, he's also forecasting a return to recession in 2012.

That said, Shilling's bearish pronouncements have been right at key moments, including 2008.

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Don't ask, we'll tell

Posted by Rona Fischman July 7, 2011 01:58 PM

At the Fourth of July party, my family was abuzz with the New York Times article about big lenders modifying loans for borrowers who didn’t ask for help.

Banks are proactively overhauling loans for borrowers… who have so-called pay option adjustable rate mortgages, which were popular in the wild late stages of the housing boom but which banks now view as potentially troublesome.

We are never going to solve the question about fairness. I’d rather not try.

Let’s talk about whether this is good business on their part. Is it just good business to get some of the underwater borrowers out of option adjustable rate mortgages and into conventional loans? Doesn’t it make sense to do this for borrowers who are paying on time? Those borrowers are more likely to keep paying on time, since their payments are being held steady. The modification gives them a chance to start paying down principal. Or should modifications only go to those that are headed for foreclosure? Is it better business to stop defaults by giving a leg up to the most vulnerable borrowers?

The two big lenders, Chase and BOA, are using different tactics to convert these toxic loans into something more stable. Chase, in the example in the story, reduced the principal by $150,000. The borrower had started with a large down payment, but her option ARM had swelled her debt to $300,000, well above the 2006 purchase price of $259,000. $359,000 (corrected)

BOA, on the other hand, is modifying loans without reducing principal. They are waiving prepayment penalties, refinancing, lowering the interest rate, postponing some of the balance and extending the term.

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Once a relative haven, renting gets pricey again

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 7, 2011 06:08 AM

The rental market has been a good place for many to ride out the real estate storm.

But it looks like the days of hanging out in your relatively cheap apartment and laughing at all those supposedly foolish homeowners stuck with big mortgages is fast coming to an end.

If it sounds like I am gloating, I'm not, though I am one of those supposedly foolhardy homeowners oh-so-smug renters enjoy poking fun at.

Dallas-based Axiometrics forecasts a nearly 6 percent jump nationally in apartment rents this year.

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Should the federal government back luxury mortgages?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 6, 2011 06:00 AM

No says a provocative new study out of George Washington University.

The Federal Housing Administration was formed to help first-time and low-to-moderate income buyers get mortgages.

But it now finds itself backing mortgages up to nearly $730,000 in some of the nation's costliest housing markets, the report notes.

It is a change that came about in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis - as recently as 2006 the FHA wouldn't back any mortgages above $362,790, the GWU study finds.

But with housing prices having been in free fall for the past few years, those higher limits now appear to be helping the comfortably well off move into their dream homes, or at least one could argue that after looking at the study.

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Summer bargains or doldrums?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 5, 2011 06:00 AM

Goodbye July 4th and hello dog days of the real estate market.

If you haven’t sold your house by now, it’s time to either take a meat cleaver to the price or pull it off the market.

Look for lots of price reductions in the weeks ahead.

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The foreclosure on my block

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 30, 2011 07:50 AM

It's an odd looking house hard by the railroad tracks on Marion Street in Natick. Built in 1930 with no particular style in mind, it sits precariously perched on the downside of a steep hill, with no front yard and a parking-space/driveway the only buffer between the house and a busy cut-through road.

But it's a sad commentary on the Greater Boston real estate market that this clearly dysfunctional house, crammed onto a tiny lot by some Depression-era builder, looked slightly tempting to my wife Karen and me when we were house hunting back in 2002.

How things have changed. Today I thank my lucky stars I never bought it, the plywood over the front window at 17 Marion St. the telltale sign the never-ending foreclosure epidemic has claimed another home.

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No recovery here: Latest home price numbers problematic

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 29, 2011 08:06 AM

Just call it the dead cat bounce.

That about sums up yesterday's report by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors that prices rose by half a percent, even as sales plunged 20 percent.

Thanks to beermeister, who called the dead cat bounce first.

And even that may be a statistical aberration - the latest report by the Case-Shiller index, the gold standard of home price tracking, has Boston area prices falling .2 percent.

The Case-Shiller index was up overall by .7 percent in April over May, but, significantly, Boston was one of seven cities that saw prices fall.

And even that overall, national bump, as modest as it is, appears questionable. The increase reported by Case-Shiller was the not-seasonally adjusted number. Seasonally adjusted, prices actually fell .1 percent.

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Is 20 percent down fair in high priced Greater Boston?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 28, 2011 07:47 AM

No way, contends the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, which wades into the down payment debate this morning with a provocative press statement.

In its monthly report on housing sales, MAR takes aim at a move in Washington that would in effect require most homeowners to put 20 percent down when buying a home.

That would mean a down payment of roughly $60,000 on a $300,075 home - the median price for a house in Massachusetts in May, our local Realtor group notes.

Of course, that looks like a bargain compared to what would-be Boston area home buyers might have to shell out. Given the metro market's median sale price of $417,000, we are talking a cool $80,000.

All sounds so reasonable, does it not? Yet I have some big problems with this argument, which would snuff out a potentially helpful reform to our severely messed up housing market.

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Homeowners brace for more price declines after tough spring

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 22, 2011 06:09 AM

The spring market was nothing short of a debacle for sellers.

As always, it began with some economists and housing market watchers holding out hope we might see glimmers of a rebound on the horizon.

And it is ending with those hopes thoroughly upended as the double dip in home prices unfolds.

That's not to say there continue to be some hot pockets here and there where home prices remain buoyant - we happen to have more than our share of those here in Greater Boston.

But the mood of the market clearly is heading down as prices continue to fall, the latest HomeGain survey finds, with a disappointing spring having led to a big increase in pessimism.

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Housing market predictions: Will economists ever learn?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 21, 2011 09:02 AM

It's a favorite game of economists and housing market watchers. When your prediction of a housing rebound falls flat, just push off that rosy estimate until the next year.

Just take a look at Fannie Mae's revised forecast for home sales across the country.

Faced with a sluggish economy and a housing market headed south, Fannie Mae has revised downward its prediction of a 6 percent jump in overall home sales this year.

It's now down to 4.3 percent, with Fannie also predicting a decline this year in new home construction, compared to an increase it had been predicting.

But don't worry, just wait until next year, Fannie Mae's economists tell us.

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Cambridge prices defy market downturn

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 20, 2011 07:52 AM

Is Cambridge truly immune?

After all, as the rest of the real estate market heads south, things don't appear to have changed all that much in Cambridge since the days of the housing bubble.

It is enough to make Cambridge an object of envy nationally - The Wall Street Journal cites the country's academic capital as one of a handful of markets that are still near their bubble year peaks.

Cambridge prices are about what they were in 2004, hardly a down year, and 8.6 percent off their peak, the Journal notes. The median single family sale price in Cambridge was up to $730,000 year-to-date through April, compared to $600,000 during the same period last year, according to The Warren Group.

Zillow's home index, which includes assessed values of properties not on the market, pegs the average home value in Cambridge at $423,900, down .6 percent year-over-year.

The piece cites the obvious - Cambridge is home to MIT and Harvard and a relatively thriving jobs market. Yet the impact of Cambridge's booming economy on home values can't be overstated, with the city benefiting from breakneck growth in a trio of key sectors - life sciences, technology and higher education.

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Time to declare housing bulls an endangered species

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 17, 2011 08:52 AM

Where have all the housing bulls gone?

Fresh off the business pages at the Boston Herald, I jumped headfirst into full-time freelancing and writing for this blog in the fall of 2008.

Back then, even as the world appeared headed into another Great Depression, there was still a housing bull or two around to bait all the bears on this blog.

But one by one, Sunshine & Lollipops and the rest of the housing bulls have fallen off the comment boards, digging in for what looks like will be a very, very long wait for the second coming of the Great Housing Bubble.

Even economists, who just can't seem to resist the temptation to predict housing prices will fall now but will then rise at some other point that is always just around the corner, appear to be wising up as well.

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Newsflash: It is no crime to have bought during the bubble years

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 15, 2011 12:21 PM

Steve, our brave seller from Lowell who shared his frustrations with the current market, must be having some second thoughts right now.

Apparently he made the fatal mistake of having bought his now eight-year-old colonial in Lowell during the home price bubble. And, according to some folks who comment on this blog, that was an unforgivable error in judgment.

I'll leave names - or to be more accurate pseudonyms - out of this.

Still, it's worth taking a look at this barb thrown out by one of the regulars on the comment boards of this blog.

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Lowell seller's lament: Not enough buyers

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 14, 2011 09:34 AM

Steve bought a new home in Lowell back during the bubble years and has spent the last eight years spiffing it up.

He and his wife decided to buy the newly-built colonial after losing bidding wars for homes across the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire. At $309,900, it seemed a lot more reasonable than the other homes he had bid on, which were closer to $400,000.

Times change and Steve and his wife, who now have two young children, would like to take advantage of falling home prices to move up to a bigger house.

Under no illusions about the state of the market, Steve is ready to sell low in order to buy low.

With new hardwood floors, a professional paint job and some nice landscaping and a fence, his 1,700-square-foot colonial sparkles. And, at $289,000, it is priced right for Lowell's Belvidere neighborhood, while offering a nearly $20,000 discount from what Steve originally bought it for.

There's only one small problem - Steve can't find a buyer. In fact, he's having a hard time getting anybody to come and check it out.

So when he read my post suggesting that buyers face a dearth of decent homes at reasonable prices to choose from, Steve fired off this email to me.

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Dearth of decent homes hobbles market

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 13, 2011 06:43 AM

There's a cruel twist to how the real estate downturn is playing out here in Greater Boston.

While home prices are on the retreat again, it may be actually becoming harder to find a decent home.

Rona, in this insightful post, argues the quality of homes on the market has dropped markedly over the past year or two. She's seeing too many homes in need of work or near major highways.

In fact, I'd argue that what we are seeing is a long-term problem that is actually growing more acute.

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If you are going to build, why not go modular?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 10, 2011 06:43 AM

Let's face it, modular homes have an image problem. For years they have been confused with the old cheapo manufactured home on cinder blocks popular in poverty stricken rural hamlets.

Of course, these are two entirely different animals.

Modular homes are made of wood - and it's hard if not impossible to tell them apart from any other suburan home. But instead of being built on site by your local contractor, the individual sections are hammered out in a factory and then assembled on site in day or two.

Hoping to get the word out about modular homes, Westchester Modular Homes of Greater Boston has built a modular home/showroom, perched on the northbound side of Route 1 in Saugus. The showroom is a 2,900-square-foot "Bostonian," one of a number of different home designs the company is offering.

A relatively new company, Westchester was launched a year ago by a local North Shore home builder who for years had also offered modular construction, but had never particularly focused on it.

That said, there are a number of pros and cons for a home buyer to consider before going modular.

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Discussing the quality problem

Posted by Rona Fischman June 9, 2011 02:12 PM

I have been seeing a dearth of properties worth buying this spring in and around Boston. Although there may be lots of houses on the market, many are overpriced and/or somehow unappealing to buyers, at any price. Sesw got to the crux of the problem. Sesw asked:

Is the quality of houses worse than 2010, 2009, etc. or are buyers just more discerning?

I ask you the same question. Buyers, are the houses out there worse, or are you just no longer willing to settle for less?

I was out there in 2009 and 2010. I believe the 2011 houses are worse. I am also seeing my client’s legitimate unwillingness to buy something that will not suit them as a long-term housing option. Some will compromise on condition, somewhat, knowing that they will improve it as time goes on. They are not biting on major renovation projects, or too-small properties, or locationally impaired properties, at any price.

Condition:
Part of the cause for this is that during the bubble there were large numbers of flippers out there who improved the condition of houses or sale (for a price.) When the profit margin for this disappeared, so did the flippers. Now, I am seeing many “pre-flipped” houses that need to be brought into the 21st century. My typical buyer with one to two incomes and one to two children do not have the time or inclination to take on that job. Also rehab money is tighter since the end of the bubble. The result is an old housing stock that is showing its age more.

The buying public who does not have the inclination, the funds or the skill to do the rehab. Result: a glut of houses for sale in need of major renovation.

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Greater Boston lands on list of “lowest performing major markets”

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 9, 2011 08:02 AM

Home prices continue to fall across the country, but the pace of decline is starting to slow, ClearCapital reports.

But apparently it is a different story here in Greater Boston.

Nationally, prices fell 2.3 percent, on a quarterly basis, in May, less than half of April's 4.9 percent drop.

By contrast, the Boston area home prices fell 4.1 percent in May, landing it on a list of laggards topped by the likes of Detroit, Hartford and Cleveland.

Now that's quite a turnaround.

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Pending sales: Still stuck below 2009 levels

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 8, 2011 09:55 AM

The latest pending sales report is out, and the Massachusetts Association of Realtors is touting the "first year-over-year increase since December, 2010."

That's technically true, but it hardly tells us what's really going on with home sales, which have been lost in the shadow of ongoing drama over the double dip in prices.

A close look at the numbers hardly points to a revival, but rather how brittle the real estate market still is across the Bay State.

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Rent now, buy later?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 7, 2011 08:38 AM

Given the tumult in the real estate market, it's an option that looks increasingly attractive.

The phenomenon of buyers sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the right time to jump into the market, is hardly new, though the numbers have grown as the housing downturn drags on.

But we are now also seeing sellers cash out and and renting, instead of buying again, until the market straightens itself out.

I know at least one real estate agent in the western suburbs who attributes at least some of the drop in sales this spring to sellers opting to rent instead of buying again.

Just take jj24, a potential buyer getting ready to move from Connecticut to the Boston area with her young family. Despite a juicy corporate relocation package with all sort of perks based on buying a home, the rental market looks safer to her.

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A good time to buy?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 6, 2011 08:12 AM

Home prices have never been so affordable, beating even the 1990s on that score.

So don't get paralyzed by the short-term fluctuations of the economy - think long-term and go out and buy that house you have been pining for.

So goes this provocative piece in this weekend's Wall Street Journal. Given the play it is getting on various brokerage websites, it is fast becoming a rallying cry for Realtors across the country.

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In these towns, prices are going up as market goes down

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 3, 2011 07:24 AM

Home prices across the state and country are on the second leg of an epic slide down.

But in Greater Boston, home prices remain stubbornly high in many towns.

In fact, a number of suburbs have seen median home prices rise - not fall - this spring.

Our local housing market has the same problem it has always had: Too few well maintained, desirable homes at reasonable prices.

So when a home in a good location, good town and in good condition comes on the market at a reasonable price, it gets snapped up.

Here are towns where prices are rising, according to records section of Banker & Tradesman, published by The Warren Group. All numbers are median home sale prices, year to date, through April, compared to the first four months of 2010.

I've broken the list into two parts - relative surprises and the usual suspects.


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A question of supply

Posted by Rona Fischman June 2, 2011 01:51 PM

When I wrote about overpricing, I made these general statements, based on what I am seeing around Boston:

…demand has not dried up and the shadow supply has not swamped the inventory, leading to rapid price drops. So there is a market full of buyers who are spending what the market is still bearing, in order to get a house that suits them.

Ehwhy questioned:

If demand has not dried up why are sales down?

Sales are down because inventory is down. Anecdotally, I would say that demand is as high this year as last, but good inventory is low in my area right around Boston. If you want a house with a view of I-95, there are some nice houses to be had, at a relatively low price. But, if you want a house to stay in long enough to make it worth your effort, the pickings are slim. The inventory is clogged with houses that are either overpriced, in need of huge upgrades, tiny, or poorly located. The ones that are well priced and worthy of living in are being sold quickly. Kihon1 bears witness to this:

kihon1 wrote:

I've been looking for a house for the past five months… I've seen gems of houses going for very little money, but in bad locations. I've seen other, similar houses, with water, mold, vermin, and HOLES in the walls, going for 100K over the nicer house…

… I also understand that if I buy a house that I settled for, I won't be happy in it. This is a big investment to be unhappy with in the long run. So I'll keep looking for the right house at the right price in the right area. And sellers should understand, there's plenty of potential buyers out there who are just like me.

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A jumbo hit to the housing market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 2, 2011 08:21 AM

The housing market woes just keep on coming.

Jumbo loan ceilings, which the federal government raised during the recession in hopes of boosting the ailing housing sector, are set to come tumbling down again Oct. 1.

That could have big implications for a high-cost housing market like Greater Boston, which has benefited over the past few years from the decision to boost the starting point for more expensive jumbo loans to $523,750.

That's hardly luxury real estate territory - in many upscale suburbs that would barely get you in the door.

But starting in October, we will be looking at a new, and significantly lower limit of $465,750, warns Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

"It doesn't help, that's for sure," McBride said of the impact on the housing market. "There are likely to be fewer qualified borrowers once those (lower) limits kick in."

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Renter Nation? Give me a break

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 1, 2011 10:00 AM

Skeptical yet about all the media hype on how apartment living is the wave of the future?

If you're not, then you should be. This is a classic case of a short-term shift being trumpeted as a long-term cultural trend.

There's no debate the number of renters across the country has risen sharply at a time when foreclosures and falling home prices has tarnished the idea of homeownership.

In fact, the number of renters has grown by 692,000 each year since 2006, when home prices started falling, USA Today reports.

Yet there are some big problems with the now fashionable notion that renting is destined to become the new owning.

Reasons to be wary of the Renter Nation hype include:

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Getting an accurate price for negotiation

Posted by Rona Fischman May 31, 2011 01:51 PM

One more time! The only way to know what something is worth is to use accurate recent sale data accurately. You need a Comparative Market Analysis. Anything else is folly.

Lance wrote:

Many buyers lack the skills and experience needed to meaningfully evaluate comps. But anybody with a web browser (or iPhone app) can look up a home's value on Zillow or check the assessed value online. These are the anchors that most buyers care about, far more important than asking price. So when a buyer asks why the asking price is 20 percent above both Zillow and the tax assessor, there better be a very good answer. "The tax assessor is wrong" simply doesn't cut it anymore.

The tax assessor is wrong. OK, it doesn’t cut it. It just happens to be true. I don’t have a bone to pick with tax assessors. They have a huge job to do and, at least, they set foot in houses unlike Zillow. Lance is entirely wrong that buyers care about assessed values or Zillow values. They may say they do, in surveys, but they don’t out on the streets.

Just for fun, I matched assessed values with sale price on properties that closed May 25 and May 26:

Assessed/Sale/Town corrected 3:30 5/31
$292,800/$300,000/Melrose
$396,400/$318,000/Needham
$326,800/$366,000/Medford
376,700/$360,000/Arlington
$317,700/$375,000/Waltham
$310,600/$373,000/Medford
374,000/$435,534/Melrose
$464,300/$472,000/Melrose
$424,900/$479,000/Newton
$512,900/$502,000/Sudbury
$521,000/$515,000/Lexington
$554,700/$570,000/Acton
$556,700/$562,000/Wayland
$515,200/$615,000/Wayland
$408,700/$640,000/Melrose
$533,000/$659,000/Belmont
$607,000/$670,000/Belmont
$579,000/$750,000/Lexington
$820,000/$685,000/Concord
787,000/$850,000/Lexington
$784,500/$845,000/Sudbury
$795,600/$860,000/Winchester
$1,013,200/$889,000/Wayland
$739,000/$939,900/Waltham
$848,000/$1,020,000/Brookline


Do you see a pattern to rely on here? I sure don’t.

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It's official: Housing prices hit new low

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 31, 2011 11:33 AM

The downturn in home prices has now blown past the previous lows set during the Great Recession, according to the latest Case-Shiller numbers.

Home prices in 18 of the nation's top 20 metro markets, including Boston, saw prices fall again in March. It marks the eighth straight month of declining home prices since the end of the home buyer tax credit pushed the residential market off the cliff.

March saw a 3.6 percent, year-over-year drop in home prices, following on the heels of a 3.3 percent drop in February.

Nationally, home prices have now slipped below April 2009 levels, the last low point of the current, and now years-long, housing downturn, according to Case-Shiller.

Ouch!

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Home shopping? Towns with the biggest spring discounts

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 27, 2011 07:09 AM

This has been a miserable spring for sellers.

Not only are sales down, but prices are down as well.

Sipping my morning coffee, I came across these numbers in the records section of Banker & Tradesman, which is published by The Warren Group, the Boston-based real estate publisher and data firm.

Market psychology is a funny thing. Just recall the foolhardy stampede last spring by buyers scrambling to close on homes in time to collect the $8,000 federal home buyer tax credit. A year later, you can get reap multiples of that as sellers slash prices, but buyers are waiting on the sidelines again. Go figure.

Here are some year-to-date numbers, which match up median prices for the first four months of 2011 with spring 2010. I note sales where the declines are significant.

Towns where sellers are feeling the most pain include:

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Is your home still a good investment?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 25, 2011 08:58 AM

If you answered no, well you are still in the minority.

A majority of Americans - 57 percent - not only believe buying a home still has potential as an investment, but that it's a better bet than the stock market or putting money into a retirement plan, according to a recent Fannie Mae survey on home buyer and consumer attitudes.

In a presidential election, they call that a landslide.

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Prices are down again, but are they affordable yet?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 24, 2011 09:43 AM

As home prices across fall again, that's the big question for buyers.

The median price of a single-family home in Massachusetts posted a 4 percent, year-over-year decline in April, down to $274,000, The Warren Group reports this morning. Sales plunged 28 percent.

Still, prices have a long way to go before they hit 2000 levels. That year saw the median price of a home statewide hit $185,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The same is true, even more so, of home prices in Greater Boston.

While prices across the state have been on the decline, home prices in Boston and its far-flung suburbs actually jumped roughly 4 percent in the first quarter to $417,000, according to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

That's a far cry where sale prices stood for our metro market back in 2000, when the median price was $250,000.

And given sluggish paycheck growth over the past decade, that is a real problem.

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Average Bay State foreclosure: 463 days and counting

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 23, 2011 11:53 AM

That is the average length of time it takes for banks to seize your home if you live here in Massachusetts, according to RealtyTrac.

It's up significantly from 2007, when the foreclosure crisis kicked into high gear and the time between the initial filing by the bank and the auction was just under a year.

Now we are talking more than 15 months - a 25 percent increase.

Of course, back in more normal times, the bank would get wrest back the title to your home in a matter of six months or so if you fell behind on your payments.

That is still the case in many small states, but it is not so anymore in big government states like Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, which have thrown up an array of regulations designed to slow the process down.

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Banks still too tight with mortgages?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 20, 2011 12:44 PM

That's right, let's blame the bad market on all those stingy banks.

With the real estate market in a deep funk, one of the nation's top real estate franchises is taking a swing at the nation's bankers.

Century 21 polled more than 1,500 of its agents, asking what kinds of problems buyers are running into when it comes to getting a mortgage.

In one of the most pertinent findings, three quarters of the agents surveyed reported they had lost at least one deal in the past six months when a buyer was unable to close on a mortgage.

Other findings include:

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So much for the hype - pending sales down

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 19, 2011 12:59 PM

Even the most shameless real estate market hucksters will have a hard time spinning this one.

Pending home sales actually fell .08 percent in April from March, the National Association of Realtors reported today. That's a more than 12 percent drop from April, 2010.

The news bucked widespread expectations of a modest increase in pending sales over March, with economists having predicted a 2 percent bump.

Those predictions, in turn, had spurred some market observers to even postulate that the pending sales numbers might show evidence of a market turnaround, or at least forward momentum.

But the real estate momentum right now appears stuck in reverse - both in prices and sales.

Pending sales report: Sign of recovery or meaningless hype?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 19, 2011 08:13 AM

The National Association of Realtors will release pending home sales stats for the spring market later this morning.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg are already predicting a 2 percent increase in April over March in homes across the country that have been put under contract.

No one is disputing the fact that even with this modest bump, home sales are still far below those of last spring, when the pending expiration of the home buyer tax credit stoked frenzied buying.

But some market observers are looking to the pending sales numbers as a sign of the market's momentum - according to this theory just about any increase can be construed as a positive development, maybe even a turning point.

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As gas prices soar, what happens to 495 home prices?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 18, 2011 11:51 AM

Gas prices are spiking again. And higher costs at the pump already have potential home buyers rethinking long commutes, a new survey finds.

Three quarters of Coldwell Banker agents surveyed said gas prices are already having an impact on buyers' decisions.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out what this might do to sales and prices out on 495 and beyond, already struggling by comparison with towns closer to Boston within the 128 beltway.

Among the highlights:

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If you bought a home last spring, you may be underwater now

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 17, 2011 06:29 AM

The home buyer tax credit expired just over a year ago. But we will be living with the fallout from this disastrous government gimmick for years to come.

Buyers who rushed to close a home last spring and collect their $8,000 check have already lost that money and then some, Smart Money notes.

The median home price across the country has dipped over the past year to $170,000 from $180,000 last spring. That means a loss of $15,000 for the average tax credit buyer – almost double what they earned through the $8,000 credit.

And those who rushed to buy homes last spring here in the Bay State aren’t looking that much better.

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How much of a leg down in prices? Here’s one forecast

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 13, 2011 08:22 AM

Get this - the median price of a home here in the Bay State could fall to a somewhat more affordable sounding $250,000 by year end, if the forecasters have it right.

Home prices could fall another 3-to-6.5 percent across the Bay State over 2011, finds a new Fiserv Case-Shiller report. The report doesn't get into specific sale prices, but I took the high end of the range and did a little math.

A 6.5 percent decline would push the current statewide median price, now at $276,250, down to $250,000, if not a bit below.

Greater Boston could see prices drop another 4.5 to 4.8 percent, with the western suburbs - Cambridge, Newton, and beyond - falling on the higher end of the scale, the report finds. The Warren Group, on the Banker & Tradesman site, offers a good local breakdown of the Fiserv Case-Shiller numbers.

So what could that mean in terms of the median home price in Greater Boston?

Well it could knock another $20,000 off the median price, pushing it from $417,000, as of the end of March, below the $400,000 mark. (Regional numbers come from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.)

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Will home prices ever hit bottom?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 12, 2011 07:03 AM

OK, I'll take a shot at this: Later this year in Greater Boston and 2012 for the rest of the state.

That, anyway, was the consensus that emerged yesterday during a chat about the local real estate market I took part in on WBUR's daily local news show, Radio Boston.

Chip Case, the retired Wellesley College professor, offered a pretty detailed analysis of the national trends and statewide - I did my best to offer a more micro-local perspective.

I am drawing upon Fiserv for my prediction - which I am already beginning to regret as I write this. Fiserv and Moody's Analytics are predicting a bottoming out nationally in prices during the third quarter.

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Cambridge, Davis Square buck a down market. But can it last?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 11, 2011 09:52 AM

Condo and home prices have been remarkably stable over the past few years in such perennial hot spots like Cambridge and Davis Square, even as real estate market has gone haywire elsewhere.

There have been minor blips up and down, but no big comedown from the market's peak back in 2005, when the real estate bubble was just about to burst. Just a steady march upward over the years.

Judging from the $1 million-plus condo for sale in Davis Square I just spotted online, some sellers still believe they are back in the time of easy money and silly prices. OK, so it's new and in the heart of Davis Square, but it's a condo.

So is this just another mini-bubble waiting to burst, with the double dip in real estate prices that is sweeping the country finally bringing a well-deserved comeuppance to all those cocky sellers who so far have escaped unscathed?

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After buying at peak, Rhode Island governor faces a big loss

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 10, 2011 10:33 AM

This is the second blog in my series, Gubernatorial Real Estate Follies.

OK, just kidding. Still, last week I took a look at Gov. Deval Patrick's on again, off again hunt for a buyer for his $1.9 million Milton manse.

It seems only fair then to note that he is not the only New England governor who can't seem to come to grips with the reality of a down real estate market and find a buyer.

In fact, Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee will likely take a big hit on his Providence home - that is if he can find someone to buy it.

Chafee, then a U.S. senator, shelled out $939,000 back in August, 2006 for a quaint, seven-bedroom Victorian in Providence's upscale College Hill neighborhood. Built in 1886, it includes nice touches like the original stained glass and woodworking.

But the house has proven to be an albatross for Chafee, who bought it just months before the former Republican was booted from the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2006 by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.


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Sinking prices put more homeowners underwater

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 9, 2011 07:50 AM

The number of homeowners stuck with negative equity is on the rise again across Greater Boston.

Nearly 17 percent of homeowners across the Boston area are now underwater, meaning they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to Zillow's first quarter market report.

That's up from 11.7 percent a year ago.

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Home price double dip now official, study contends

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 6, 2011 08:14 AM

Nationally, home prices have sunk below their previous low, set back during the recession in 2009, Clear Capital reports.

April home prices were .7 percent below levels last reached in March, 2009, the latest milestone in a now months-long slide in real estate values, the research firm notes.

Of course, the last time prices were headed south, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis in the fall of 2008, we saw a panicked Congress and real estate industry rush through the home buyer tax credit, which artificially buoyed sales and prices.

This time around, there's no home buyer tax credit to bail things out and lots of downward momentum to keep prices falling in the coming months.

Greater Boston weighs in at No. 15 on Clear Capital's list of  "lowest performing" markets, with a 6.8 percent, quarter-over-quarter decline in prices and a 2.2 percent year-over-year drop.

That's compared to 4.9 percent, quarter-over-quarter price drop nationally.

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Neuroscience and your decisions

Posted by Rona Fischman May 5, 2011 02:02 PM

In How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer relates how the wording of a question can draw opposite answers from a large sample of medical doctors.

One group was asked:

The US is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease. It is expected to kill 600 people. Two different programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimate of the consequences of the programs are as follows:
If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved. If Program B is adopted, there is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved and a two-thirds probability that no people will be saved.
Which of the two programs would you favor?

Of a large sample of physicians, 72 percent chose program A, the safe and sure option.

However when the same question was asked like this:

If Program C is adopted, 400 people will die. If Program D is adopted, there is a one-third probability that no one will die and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die.
Which of the two programs would you favor?

Of a large sample of physicians, 78 percent chose program D, the risky strategy.

By changing of the wording - whether focusing on the possible saving of patients versus focusing on the death of patients - doctors can be manipulated into choosing a riskier strategy to avoid death (loss.) Doctors are good at science and math…

Doctors aren’t the only ones who are good at math but have loss aversion. Harry Markowitz, the Nobel Prize-winning investment portfolio theorist, splits his personal portfolio into stocks and bonds. His own mathematically brilliant advice favors stocks over bonds. Higher rewards have higher risk, more volatility, and intermittent loss. His little neurons didn’t like it and neither do most people’s.

So, what’s this got to do with real estate? Everything!

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In this market, even governors struggle

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 5, 2011 10:54 AM

Gov. Deval Patrick and his wife Diane put their $1.9 million Milton manse on the market back in June, 2009.

With their children out of the house, the governor noted he and Diane were looking to trade in their long-time Milton home for a downtown Boston condo.

The move, not surprisingly, drew a fair amount of media attention. In a market where sellers battle for any scrap of attention, it was the kind of publicity most can only dream of.

But nearly two years later, the Patricks still own their five bedroom, nine fireplace Milton mansion on Hinkley Road. Built in 1900, the stately home boats nine fireplaces and three and half baths.

In fact, the Patricks temporarily pulled their home - which they first bought for $562,885 in 1989 - off the market last December. And they've yet to put it back on.

So what's the story here?

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Spring market flop?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 3, 2011 08:44 AM

Pending home sales plunged again in April as we enter the heart of the spring sales season.

The number of homes put under agreement this April was off by more than 24 percent compared with April 2010, according to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

Yes, last year saw a mini-bubble as buyers rushed to take advantage of the home buyer tax credit, so that's a partial excuse, I guess.

But 24 percent is a big drop, anyway you look at it. It seems to suggest that base demand is still hovering around recession levels, even as the economy finally begins to pick up.

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Strategic defaulters not complete deadbeats, study says

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 2, 2011 09:39 AM

Homeowners who walk away tend to have good credit. And they are pretty savvy with their personal finances as well, FICO reports in a study that profiled strategic defaulters.

"As a group, strategic defaulters tend to be more savvy managers of their credit than the general population, with higher FICO® Scores, lower revolving balances, fewer instances of exceeding limits on their credit cards and lower retail credit card usage. This indicates that strategic defaulters display a different type of credit behavior than distressed consumers who miss payments," FICO states.

Before they make the big jump, strategic defaulters tend to open new credit accounts, according to the study, and, needless to say, tap them for cash before their credit lines are cut.

Basically, strategic defaulters, as a group, have seen substantial declines in the value of their homes and have concluded it no longer makes sense to keep paying, FICO finds.

Who knew?

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As home prices decline, rents are poised to soar

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 29, 2011 08:29 AM

Renters here in Greater Boston and across the country can expect to get socked by rising rents and a tightening market over the next few years, a new Harvard report finds.

In fact, after a dip in rents and a rise in vacancies during the Great Recession, both key indicators are turning sharply upward again, according to Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Larger, professionally managed apartment complexes saw rents dive 4.1 percent in 2009, only to rebound 2.3 percent toward the end of 2010. That likely to set the stage for an even bigger spike this year.

The market is about to get a lot tighter as well, with apartment complex vacancies having plunged to 6.5 percent in 2010 from 8.2 percent the year before. The overall U.S. vacancy rate - which includes all rentals, not just in the bigger buildings - fell to 9.4 percent in 2010 from 10.7 percent in 2009.

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Home prices finally hitting bottom?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 28, 2011 08:45 AM

The double dip we are seeing in home prices is being treated as some sort of stunning new development. As is everything in no today's no context, memory-of-a-gnat news media.

Home prices and sales fell again in March, according to both the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

The Bay State's median home sale price dipped to $267,250 in March, down 2.8 percent from March, 2010, according to the Warren Group. Home sales were down 14 percent year-over-year.

Yet it was only a matter of time before prices headed down again.

In fact, I would argue it's even good news, as in an alcoholic finally coming to grips with his drinking problem or a couple facing up to huge problems they had denied for years.

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Slide in home prices only accelerating, report finds

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 26, 2011 12:28 PM

The latest Case-Shiller numbers don't look pretty.

Home prices fell or were flat year over year in all 20 major metro markets with the sole exception of Washington, with its overheated government-driven economy, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Composite.

And in ten cities, home values hit their lowest point since prices began falling in earnest four years ago.

Boston area home prices fell 1.5 percent in February - which places Greater Boston in the top five markets with the biggest winter price declines.

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Will accelerated sale work for Wellesley mansion?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 26, 2011 08:37 AM

Accelerated marketing has worked pretty well for large condo towers with hundreds of units that can be sold in an auction-style format.

Buyers have been able to pick up some real steals, while enabling high-rise developers to quickly jettison troublesome investments.

But we will soon get a chance to see how this tactic works with mansions, with an 11,800- square-foot Wellesley estate set to to be sold by May 25th to the highest bidder.

The seven bedroom, seven full and two half-bath, five fireplace home was built in 2008 and was last listed at $5.2 million. (That said, it also appears to have been under agreement at the end of last month for $4.5 million, though clearly this deal is now dead.)

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Long haul still ahead for housing?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 25, 2011 07:24 AM

Sales of new homes are picking up this spring, with new numbers due out this morning.

Economists are estimating a 12 percent jump when the Commerce Department releases its March housing report at 10 a.m., Bloomberg reports.

But any progress is likely to be tenuous until more people who lost their jobs during the Great Recession are able to get back on their feet again.

I did my own informal survey at a family Easter gathering this weekend.

Of 12 adults, four are now unemployed, or soon to be.


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Home sellers gambling with silly prices - new trend or not?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 22, 2011 07:06 AM

Everyone knows one, especially here in Greater Boston, where, in the eyes of their loving owners, all homes are above average.

It's the guy on the block who thinks his Colonial is worth $800,000 even as his neighbors are lucky to break the $500,000 mark.

OK, it's a little harsh, but I have taken to calling them delusional sellers. (I'm open to suggestions here.)

Of course, what makes this blog so fun is that everyone calls out everyone else on just about everything.

Jima contends I'm off the mark - all those sellers who start with a pie-in-the-sky price and then are forced to come down, one small price reduction after another, are doing what home sellers have always done. There's nothing new here, he contends.

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"Stingy" seller to frustrated buyers: Take a hike!

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 21, 2011 07:22 AM

Check out this mock apology from one avowedly "stingy" seller.

While my post on Boston leading the country in stingy sellers drew lots of "amens" from frustrated buyers, greblok was having none of it.

"I hereby apologize to Scott and all the countless unnamed people I've deeply offended by being a shrewd, nay stingy, seller, which is the only way I afforded a down payment on my current home. I don't know how I sleep at night because a couple from California wanted to pay about $75,000 more for my 1790 colonial than anyone else did. Or because I rejected an offer on a condo during the great recession until one came in at $54,000 more. Oh the unbearable agony of having offended so many finely tuned sensibilities."

I further apologize for being a shrewd, stingy, low-balling buyer, which was also the only way I could afford my next home. I will try to be dumber next time."

Wow, that's a great retort.

Yet equally fascinating were some of the responses it drew from the fed-up buyer camp.

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Nicolas Cage's Newport mansion mess a sign of trouble for market, or just star?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 20, 2011 08:31 AM

It may go down as one of the more memorable real estate blunders in New England history.

Nicolas Cage shelled out a whopping $15.7 million to buy a Roaring Twenties mansion on Newport's waterfront back in 2007, when the real estate market was clearly past its prime.

Cage, whose personal travails seem to be growing by the day - witness his arrest in New Orleans - recently unloaded the 26 acre Gray Craig Manor estate for a relatively measly $6.2 million.

So are all those rich celebs finally getting their comeuppance? Is the bottom is finally falling out from the mansion market?

Well not so fast. While that would make a fascinating story line, Cage's Newport mansion mess is arguably the latest sad chapter in a personal meltdown being played out on a global stage.

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Let’s help James quit his day job!

Posted by Rona Fischman April 19, 2011 01:26 PM

In March, we discussed hurry-up buying near to death. Sometimes the conversation stopped over the question of who trusts who’s statistics. Do Assessed values correlate to sale prices? Is the MLS right about square footage? Are agent CMAs accurate?

Here’s where the data comes from:
• Municipal records showing assessed value and square footage.
• Deed/title records showing sale price and square footage.
• MLS records showing asking price(s), sale price and square footage.

James wrote:

“Yeah, I was wondering about sources of aggregated data. I suppose I can write my own scraping script, but I'd hoped someone else had already scraped and cleaned the data.”

I answered:

"If you could clean up town real estate data and sell it, you could quit your day job."

To which, James wrote:

“Actually, I've been thinking about doing just that. What data would you like to see?”

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In choosing an agent, sellers going for cheap over smart

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 19, 2011 09:05 AM

No wonder there is a glut of unsold homes on the market.

OK, I am being facetious here, but the latest survey from HomeGain illustrates a glaring intelligence gap in today's market.

On one hand, we have sellers all too eager to choose agents based on style rather than substance.

And on the other, we have buyers looking for substance over style, and, in particular, easy to visualize, basic information on homes.

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Massachusetts, we're number six

Posted by Rona Fischman April 14, 2011 01:20 PM

Tuesday, I wrote about the high rate of Massachusetts born people who stay here in Massachusetts. I questioned whether the motivation to stay here is about family. Wednesday, my husband sent me this: Massachusetts is the sixth best place in America to make a living (and this is adjusted for cost of living!)

Today, I ask, are you here because of your job? Do you have to take a deep pay cut to go somewhere else?

Richard Barrington writes:

Massachusetts The high cost of living in Massachusetts is counterbalanced by the highest average wage levels of any state, helping Massachusetts rank sixth with an adjusted-average income of $38,664.86.

But is housing cost counterbalanced by income? Massachusetts has the highest average wage levels in America, so what? I reiterate what I regularly tell you all about averages: averages don’t tell a true story. (The execs making several million really skew this average.) I would be curious what the median is. But, for today, let’s look at the average.

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Greater Boston tops in number of stingy sellers, report says

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 14, 2011 06:39 AM

Who knew? OK, I mean we all know home sellers around here are a particularly stubborn bunch. But the stingiest in the country?

So says Trulia, which just launched a new "home offer" report, which takes a mountain of real estate data and slices and dices it into a range of entertaining categories.

Boston is the top market in the country when it comes to stingy buyers, with an average price reduction of just 5 percent. By contrast, Atlanta home buyers lop an average 9 percent off their listing price and in Baltimore, 10 percent, according to Trulia.

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Soaring rents sign of apartment market bubble?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 13, 2011 08:21 AM

Ah, the good old days. When you could get a bargain on a decent apartment and gloat while your friends grappled with Greater Boston's perpetually inflated home prices.

No more. After years of quietly riding out the real estate storm, renters across the Boston area are suddenly finding themselves in the midst of what could be the area's newest real estate bubble.

While home prices have started falling again in many towns and cities across the state, apartment rents have been on a tear.

Boston just barely missed the top 10 markets in the country in terms of rent increases - it ranks No. 12 in a list compiled by Bloomberg Businessweek.

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Spring follies: Some sellers shooting for fantasy prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 12, 2011 05:00 AM

What in the world are they thinking?

Some sellers are shooting for the stars again when setting the price of their homes.

And frankly it both irks and baffles me at the same time.

Take a look around - you won't have to do much digging to find a good example.

I have a few in my hometown of Natick, where a colonial owner or two suddenly decided they are really living in Wellesley, where the median price is $835,088.

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Taking a loss on your home - in order to buy up

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 7, 2011 10:09 AM

For anyone who bought an overpriced home during the bubble, this spring has got to be particularly painful.

Home prices are hardly a steal within 128, but some buyers with a little more spending power than first-timers can make out all right. As you head out towards 495 and beyond, the deals become more numerous - though gas prices have gone haywire again so commuting is a concern. (I filled my tank the other day and it cost me more than $40 - haven't seen that since 2008.)

Basically, a home that you could not afford during the bubble years is suddenly within your league, yet you are stuck with your overpriced little Cape or condo.

But are you?  Here's one option that I am starting to hear more about - selling at a loss so you can move on and up.

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Spring market finally kicks in after a snowy winter - but with lower sales than last year

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 5, 2011 08:21 AM

With winter - cross your fingers - mostly behind us, home and condo sales are starting to finally pick up with the start of the spring market.

Pending sales jumped 40 percent from February to March, the largest month-over-month increase since the Massachusetts Association of Realtors began tracking pending sales in 2008. Condo sales were up 45 percent from February.

Blaming the weather for poor sales is typically pretty lame, but this winter provides an exception to the rule.

But don't be fooled by the big month-over-month increase into thinking the market has turned the corner - it hasn't.

The increase in pending sales in March over February is mostly a story about this winter's bad weather - the more telling figure is how this March stacks up with the start of the spring market a year ago.

Pending home sales in March fell more than 16 percent when compared with March 2010, MAR reports. Condo sales plunged 22 percent compared to March 2010.

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Have questions/opinions about the spring market? Chat with me at 1 p.m.

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 4, 2011 06:12 AM

Let me know now want you'd like to talk about this afternoon.

There is certainly lots of territory to cover, from whether it makes sense to buy now to finding yourself caught in a bidding war in a down market. Not supposed to happen, but inside Route 128 it does.

Here's the link to the chat.

So fire away - we'll talk more at 1 p.m.

Only fools rush in? Buyers again ensnared by bidding wars

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 1, 2011 08:35 AM

It may look the return of the Ice Age this morning, but don't be fooled. The spring real estate market is here - and with it innumerable pitfalls for unprepared and naive buyers.

While things may be slower in the hinterlands, it's the same old story in many of the hotter towns and neighborhoods along and inside the Route 128 corridor.

Once again there are too many buyers battling it out for a limited pool of decent inventory - either new homes or older ones not needing expensive overhauls.

And brokers who have been around the block know all the tricks to stampeding eager buyers and getting them to check their common sense at the door to the open house. (Rona has written extensively on this over the past few weeks. Read and learn.)

My favorite is the broker at the open house who told buyers, all eager to see a house - in Burlington, I think - that sorry, he was now only taking "back up offers."

But how do we know those offers are real? Could this just be another broker ginning up the process with a few "phantom buyers?"

Does it really have to be this way?

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Rent here and buy elsewhere: One reader’s idea for escaping the Greater Boston home price trap

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 31, 2011 08:00 AM

Here's an idea tossed to me by a renter sitting on the sidelines.

Yearning for a meaningful decline in Greater Boston's perpetually inflated home prices, but apparently tired of waiting, he's looking into buying a vacation home while continuing to rent here.

Not necessarily here in Massachusetts, but in another state where prices are easier to get your arms around.

It's an intriguing idea, to say the least. Rent here and avoid breaking the bank to buy in Newton or Arlington and instead become a homeowner in pretty little East Nowheresville.

The fact is, armed with $150,000 - roughly the median price nationally of a home - and you can do well for yourself in many other states and metro markets.(Here that gets you a grim looking one bedroom, garden style apartment/condo along a busy highway.)

And really, unless you believe the world ends at 495, there are actually a lot of other nice places to live in this world.

After all, it's not hard to beat our crummy weather and terrible traffic.

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Latest Bay State home sales numbers are brutal – but they don’t tell the full picture

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 29, 2011 06:43 AM

Single-family home sales posted a 12.5 percent year-over-year decline in February, according to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, points to an even steeper plunge - 15.7 percent - calling it the worst February since it began tracking local home sales in 1987.

Yet all real estate is local and often micro local. Even as home sales plunge across the state, in the more coveted towns near or within the 128 belt, half decent homes are sparking bidding wars.

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Good time to become a landlord?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 28, 2011 06:33 AM

OK, we all know renting is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative.

But what about taking the plunge and becoming a landlord yourself?

The numbers right now appear to be lining up for a long-term surge in renting.

The national vacancy rate is down to 9.4 percent - the lowest since 2003.

And the pool of renters is growing by the day. Foreclosures have turned millions of one-time homeowners into renters, many of them permanently.

There's not just demand, but a lack of decent supply as well. New rental construction has long been a laggard - there's growing demand not just for more apartments, but for a wider variety.

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Now for the envelope: Spring market poll results are in

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 23, 2011 07:47 AM

"What's your spring market verdict: Disaster or buying opportunity?"

That was the informal poll I took here last week on the outlook for the spring market.

I spent this morning tallying up the votes, following United Nations best practices.

Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first. And with one predictable exception, no one argued that it is a great time to buy. Shocker!

Basically, the comments broke down into two camps. The are the embittered hopeful, who are looking, but remain frustrated by home prices that still seem too high, and the perpetually wary who are awaiting another 10 to 20 percent drop in prices.

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Are men really more bullish/foolish when it comes to the home values?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 22, 2011 07:45 AM

Here's a fascinating tidbit on the real estate market.

Nearly 60 percent of men recently surveyed by Rasmussen Reports said they believed their home is still worth more than what they borrowed to buy it for. That's compared to 47 percent of women homeowners polled.

Given the state of the real estate market right now, I'd vote with the women right now, whose bearish instincts on this question appear closer to reality.

Despite that contingent of bullish men, most homeowners now appear to be finally grappling with real estate reality after years of hoping that a home price rebound is just around the corner.

Less than half of the 720 homeowners surveyed the week of March 15th said they still expect the value of homes to go up over the next five years.

Other interesting findings from the Rasmussen poll, which focused on the real estate market, include:

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In an increasingly online age, can you really live, work, and buy a house anywhere you choose?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 21, 2011 09:14 AM

It is one of the truly intriguing lifestyle choices created by the online revolution, the idea that you can ditch the corporate office and set up your life anywhere you choose.

A recent story in the Boston Sunday Globe magazine - featuring, among others, an internet guru who ditched Boston for the U.S. Virgin Islands - got me thinking about this. (Sorry, I'll keep trying, but I can't find the link.)

In theory, the ability for work from anywhere - whether at Starbucks or in a home office - should be liberating, and clearly, for a few, it already is.

Not only should it free more and more of us from the rat race of spending hours each day stuck in traffic, but it should also open up a much broader range of choices in the real estate market as well.

With laptop in hand, you, too, should be able to ditch the corporate office and move to the hinterlands. Sure, that could mean Fargo or some exotic island, but more practically it might open up much less expensive choices beyond the 495 ring that would seem impractical if tethered to a long commute to Boston.

Yet it remains just a theory, as anyone who has checked out the difference between 128 and 495 home prices can tell you.

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The usual suspects, hurry-ups

Posted by Rona Fischman March 18, 2011 02:03 PM

In a fall market, during the current recession, I had clients who were involved in a bidding war in one of the “usual suspect” towns. The offers where collected on Monday. I was told that there were 16 of them. My clients were within market value, and were roughly $20,000 over asking price. The property sold for $102,000 over asking price. (This property had an asking price between $700-900,000.)

Bidding wars are still happening through the recession. They are happening outside of “silly season” (as one of the commenters called the tax credit period.) Here is the asking price and sale price information for hurry-ups in the usual suspect towns, Arlington, Brookline, Belmont, Cambridge, Lexington, Needham, Newton and Wellesley for the past six months.

Asking price// Sale price
$329/$329
$339/$338
$349.9/$350
$379/$390
$379/$370
$385/$379
$398/$350
$399/$381
$399/$399
$400/$400
$419/$418,4
$439/$449
$439/$458
$440/$439
$449/$475
$459/$450
$460/$450,5
$464,5/$445
$465/$486
$495/$457,5
$499,9/$500
$510/$482,5
$519/$510
$525/$530
$525/$536
$529/$529
$529/$527
$530/$525
$550/$546
$557/$550
$572/581,9
$589/$589
$595/$595
$599/$620
$599/$654

I am already seeing the hurry-up at work this early spring. Are you?

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New revelations how the Federal Reserve shrugged off housing crash warnings

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 18, 2011 08:42 AM

A little known real estate industry trade group makes for an unlikely whistle blower.

Yet check out this story from Fox Business.

The Mortgage Insurance Companies of America were warning the Federal Reserve and other bank regulators in 2005 and 2006 that disaster loomed.

The warnings, in a stream of letters from the trade group to the Federal Reserve and the FDIC, turned out to be right on the mark. Concerned about a rising tide of subprime lending, MICA highlighted 15 states that were likely to lead the way down with a flood of foreclosures, including Nevada, California and Florida.

Of course, as the Fox story pointedly notes, Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve, was countering such concerns with happy talk. In a now infamous 2005 TV appearance, Bernanke called a housing crash a "pretty unlikely possibility." (Bernanke wasn't Fed chairman yet - at that point he was chairman of White House's Council of Economic Advisors.)

Thanks for the heads up, Ben.

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Hurry-ups from the past six months

Posted by Rona Fischman March 17, 2011 02:00 PM

Today and tomorrow, I am answering Lance’s request for data on what hurry-up houses are fetching, compared to their asking prices.

Today, I am posting some towns that are not known for their bidding wars: Natick, Medford, Watertown, Waltham and Somerville. These are all hurry-ups during the fall and winter seasons which stuck and closed. Data from MLS for the past 6 months for all single family homes with 5 or fewer days on the market.

Asking price // sale price
$99/$78
$139/$172
$199,9/$199,9
$230/$220
$298,9/$298,9
$299/$299
$300/$275
$324,9/$324,9
$339,9/$327
$355/$375
$359,9/$350
$359/$349
$359/$352
$369/$369
$375/$375
$378/$375
$379/$382
$384,9/$380
$389,9/$392
$398,750/$400
$399/$411
$399,9/$385

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How much cash are you ready to put down?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 17, 2011 06:53 AM

Well, it had better be a lot. Amid the hand-wringing in Washington over whether to formally require 20 percent down payments, out in the hinterlands the future is already here for many home buyers.

The average down payment is now up to 27 percent nationally, according to a stat cited recently by Fortune and Reuters and attributed to the Mortgage Bankers Association. (I hope to get the direct link later this morning.)

Certainly it's consistent with what I have been hearing from buyers here in Greater Boston, with 20 percent down pretty much considered a given unless you are trying to get an FHA loan.

Of course, it's a lot harder to come up with 20 percent down in the Boston area, where you need to be ready to spend at least $300,000 to $400,000, and often more, to get anything decent.

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For buyers hunting for spring deals, fewer foreclosures

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 16, 2011 07:15 AM

I've been predicting a surge of bank repossessions, just in time for the spring market.

Turns out I was wrong, at least on the timing.

The theory was that once the robo-signing controversy was settled, major lenders would push ahead with all those home foreclosures they had put on the back burner during the crisis.

But while the major banks are insisting they have resolved their paperwork problems, they are continuing to act gun shy when it comes to lowering the boom on homeowners who have stopped paying their mortgages.

Ten of the biggest home lenders in Massachusetts combined for a paltry 250 foreclosure petitions in February, Banker & Tradesman's Colleen M. Sullivan reports. That's down from 1,651 in September.

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The fiction of asking prices

Posted by Rona Fischman March 15, 2011 01:43 PM

Thursday and Friday, this week, I’ll be posting the asking price and the sale price of single family homes which sold in less than a week for the past six months. These were all hurry-ups.

But first, consider that asking price is an awful measure of whether a buyer is getting a good deal. I contend that asking price is a fiction created by the seller or the seller’s agent or both that reflects the wishful thinking of the seller or the seller’s agent, or both.

For a seller or listing agent to identify a price that is compelling for a buyer is both science and art. It is not so easy to finding a price that will make a number of buyers jump. The masters and mistresses of the bidding war do just that.

The ones who do it well are very good at Comparative Market Analysis (CMA.) It’s done by looking at the properties that are most like the one for sale, the “target.” The like-kind properties’ prices are then adjusted so one can compare apples with apples, by deducting value from the target for things that are worse and adding value to the target for things that are better.

Once they establish a market price, they list the house at or just below the market value, where they expect a number of buyers will respond. The risks: if the price is too high, no war; if the demand is lower than expected, it is hard to bring the price up again (although some do it.)

I do the CMA on the buyer’s side to help them establish the point where they are overpaying for the house. By knowing the walk-away point, a buyer can go into a bidding war without losing his/her/their head.

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What's your spring market verdict: Disaster or buying opportunity?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 15, 2011 09:46 AM

No need to wait for the spring home sales numbers to come out. Let's get a jump with our own, informal market survey.

Do you plan to buy this spring and if so, where and for what price?

If you already own a home, do you plan on selling and if so, why?

And if you plan to sit things out, why, and for how long?

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Along Route 128, home prices defy gravity

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 14, 2011 09:22 AM

The real estate market is taking a beating, but not along the core of the Route 128 corridor.

From Burlington down to Milton, home prices have seen only modest declines, if that, since the market's peak in 2005, according to Warren Group numbers I examined.

By contrast, home prices along 1-495, another vaunted tech corridor, have clearly taken a hit.

I compared home prices along the 128 and 495 corridors in my regular Forever 128 column, which ran in yesterday's Globe West section. I matched up full-year numbers, comparing 2005 to 2010.

Of a dozen communities stretching from Littleton to Plainville, all but one saw declines of more than 10 percent. Five saw decreases of well above 20 percent.

Median housing prices along I-495 last year ranged from $248,000 in Bellingham to $519,500 in Hopkinton.

By contrast, only four of 11 towns Route 128's central corridor saw double digit declines, with just one, Canton, approaching the 20 percent mark. Lexington saw a decline of 1.5 percent, while home values in Milton were off a negligible 1.2 percent.

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Should you get hitched before buying a home?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 10, 2011 08:18 AM

A growing number of couples are saying thanks but no thanks to that proposition.

The percentage of unmarried couples buying homes and condos here in the Bay State is more than a quarter higher than the national average, which is hovering around 9 percent.

I will leave the Bible thumping to others. Rather, I question the common sense.

I am moving into anecdotal territory here, but I wonder, based on what I hear from my own
network of friends and acquaintances, how many unmarried couples are simply drifting into home ownership.

Maybe marriage is a sore subject. Or maybe one partner hopes the big financial commitment will prompt a formal proposal after years of fence sitting. Maybe both hope buying a house will make everything better.

Who knows, but it's a risky move even in a good real estate market and a potentially catastrophic one now.

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Falling prices a good omen for spring market

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 9, 2011 08:58 AM

Here's an emerging pattern that may hold out the best hope yet for an eventual real estate market rebound.

Home prices are falling again. And guess what? Sales are rising again for the first time since the multibillion-dollar home buyer tax credit expired last spring.

Homes sales across the country jumped 22 percent from October through January, even as the median sale price plunged to $158,800, Bloomberg reports, citing stats released by the National Association of Realtors.

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Desperately seeking decent habitation – below $250,000 - in the inner suburbs

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 8, 2011 06:22 AM

A long-time newspaper buddy of mine has begun searching for a condo in the inner suburbs.

A renter for years, "Joe" recently met someone and now wants to buy. He and his girlfriend are open to a house, but right now are searching for a two bedroom condo.

And with most of their social life in the Cambridge and its environs, the two want to both keep within the inner suburbs and and stay below $250,000 as well.

That's turning out to be some challenging search criteria.

OK, in theory, the market is weaker than it was in the bubble years. But given Joe's experiences -  and the still steep prices he is running into in and around Cambridge - I am not so sure whether that assessment applies to the inner suburbs.

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Will rising gas prices wilt the spring market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 4, 2011 01:08 PM

With the Middle East in turmoil, gas prices are headed up.

And that could have some serious implications for anyone hoping to sell their home this coming spring and summer.

Some energy analysts are already predicting gas will hit $4 a gallon and above by this summer.

So who does this hurt - and conversely help - across the Greater Boston housing market?

Well take a look at this Journal piece. It focuses on the waning fortunes of Homestead, about 30 miles outside of Miami. Once seen as a refuge for priced out buyers during the bubble years, has become a foreclosure trap, with one of the highest rates in the country. (If you are wondering, 44 percent of homeowners are behind in their payments.)

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Juiced up over the Boston rental scene

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 3, 2011 08:00 AM

Some smart money is betting the surge of interest in the rental lifestyle may be more than a passing fancy.

Lexington-based Highland Capital Partners recently plunked down $6.2 million to help fuel the expansion RentJuice, a relatively new online platform aimed at agents, renters and landlords.

Now the San Francisco startup – founded by a recent Harvard Business School grad who did his field research talking to brokers on Newbury Street – is buying a beachhead in Boston’s thriving rental market.

RentJuice this morning announced its acquisition of smaller Boston-based competitor Kahoots, a move that will give the West Coast startup its first office in the area. It is also dropping prices in a bid to bring in more customers.

Of course, RentJuice is just one of a number of online players looking to leverage the growing interest in rentals.

The theory, crudely put, is that a more footloose and mobile Gen Y generation will choose to rent rather than buy for many years to come. The debacle in the home sales market, or so the thinking goes, will make those youngsters think twice before they buy.

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Greater Boston's biggest home price winners, losers

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 2, 2011 07:40 AM

The real estate market overall is in rough shape. And it's likely to get worse before it gets better.

But the key question, if you live here in Greater Boston, is worse for whom?

For if you just look at the numbers, homeowners in some of the more coveted suburbs and neighborhoods might reasonably ask "what downturn?"

Boston magazine's Best Places to Live issue just hit the streets. It includes a nifty chart, drawn from Warren Group data, comparing today's sales numbers with peak prices across Greater Boston.

At just a shade below $700,000, the median price in Lexington is up 11 percent over the past year and off just 2 percent from its 2005 peak.

Needham, at $630,000, is off just 5 percent from its 2005 peak,

And Wellesley? Well the median price hit $900,000 after rising 6 percent over the past year. That's just 7 percent off from its 2005 peak.

For that matter, Cambridge median prices are actually up - not down - from 2005, to $755,500.

There's a definite pattern here. Upscale suburbs, at least when it comes to prices, have so far largely escaped the downturn's wrath, middle income towns have seen a modest decline, while old industrial cities and poorer urban neighborhoods have taken it on the chin.

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Last-minute spats over price have sellers, agents crying foul

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 1, 2011 07:53 AM

A growing number of home sales are falling apart and appraisers once again are taking the blame.

A quarter of real estate agents surveyed in January reported they were left scrambling when a low appraisal clashed with the sale price, according to the National Association of Realtors. Ten percent of agents reported they lost deals, with the other 15 percent saying sellers had to lower prices or put in more equity.

A third of home builders are also blaming low appraisals for lost sales, according to this USA Today piece.

Sounds like a theme we've heard before during this real estate downturn. I mean the real estate market would be on its way to a rebound if it weren't for those lousy appraisers and their persistently negative attitude towards home values, right?

That's what the big girls and boys of the real estate sales industrial complex would like you to believe, but I'm not buying it nor should you.

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Best places to live?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 28, 2011 08:47 AM

It's that time of year again and Boston magazine is out tomorrow with its annual ranking of the "best places to live."

I know you have all been breathlessly awaiting the recommendations.

This year's list is based on three major real estate/life cycles, with four towns/neighborhoods featured for those starting out, trading up and at the other end of the spectrum, downsizing.

So without any further ado, here's a sneak preview of the selections - and my even more scintillating comments on them.

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Is it gutsy - or just foolish - to buy in this market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 25, 2011 08:51 AM

Brace yourself, for I am going to sound like I just chugged the Kool-Aid at a Realtor sales convention.

I swear I haven't gone anywhere near Orlando or New Orleans.

But this could be a good time to buy - that is if you are brave enough to take the plunge.

Sellers are a notoriously stubborn bunch here in Greater Boston, but anyone looking to sell right now is going to have to come down on price. And, as I noted recently, they may have to update that tired kitchen and pretty up that dingy old bathroom as well.

For buyers, then, there are opportunities out there - provided you can stomach the downside of buying a home in a declining market.

And let's be honest here - if you are worried about where the market is headed, as you should be, there are some real issues to take into account.

This Bloomberg piece offers a great road map to all the challenges facing today's real estate market - and by extension buyers and sellers.

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Does it still make sense to use a broker?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 23, 2011 09:39 AM

If I had to put my Natick fixer-upper on the sales block, I would bring on a broker to do it.

OK, I have no special love for Realtors. In fact, while most brokers I have dealt with have been upstanding individuals, as a reporter I have found it to be a difficult industry to get a straight answer out of.

It's as if every broker has gone gone through happy talk training and won't touch any issue or subject related to home sales and prices that might be perceived as even remotely negative.

That said, trying to sell your own home in this market can be a demanding, part-time job.

And if you and your significant other are already working 50-to-60 hours a week - and maybe even chasing little ones around as well - who has the time to do this?

That brings me to HomeGain, which is releasing a survey tomorrow that it contends quantifies the advantage home sellers gain when they team up with a Realtor.

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The double dip in home prices gains speed – as big problems emerge with national real estate sales data

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 22, 2011 09:28 AM

Wow, now here's a doubleheader for you this morning.

First, Bay State home prices fell nearly 7 percent in January from a year earlier, down to a new median of $270,000, the Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman reports. Sales, by contrast, rose 5 percent year-over-year in January.

So maybe, just maybe, there is some significant relief on the way for the legion of frustrated buyers hoping to someday break into the still pricey Greater Boston market.

But an even bigger story is breaking nationally - concerns that national home sales stats may have been inflated by as much as 20 percent over the past few years.

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Time to stop subsidizing McMansions?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 21, 2011 09:31 AM

I'm all for scaling back the mortgage interest deduction. But please, don't touch middle-income homeowners like me.

OK, that sounds decadently selfish. Let's balance the budget, just let me keep on deducting the interest on my Natick fixer-upper's $412,000 mortgage.

But let's cut the ideology here and instead look at this with that scarce commodity these days, common sense.

A close look at the interest rate deduction reveals much of its benefits go to homeowners with mortgages far larger than most in the middle of the housing pack. Check out this Forbes piece, which nicely lays out the argument for taking away this perk from the homeowners with outsized mortgages - incredibly the limit is currently $1 million.

And you can even use it for vacation homes.

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A short-lived farewell to ARMs

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 18, 2011 08:38 AM

How quickly we forget.

A growing number of homeowners are gambling again on adjustable rate mortgages.

And gambling is the key word here, as it always is with ARMs, which start off with artificially low rates and then reset after a few years.

Not long ago, ARM had become a toxic term, with adjustable rate mortgages having been blamed for helping fuel the foreclosure epidemic.

But now, with rates on 30-year mortgages edging up again, more homeowners are taking a chance again on ARMs, lured by teaser rates that are falling as the costs of traditional mortgages rise.

After rising to 40 percent of the market, ARMs fell to just 3 percent in 2009. Now adjustable rate mortgages are back to 7 percent of the market and headed for the 9 percent mark, according to Freddie Mac.

Memories are short, so here's a refresher.

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What it takes to sell now, Part II: Cosmetics count

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 17, 2011 06:41 AM

A fresh coat of paint and a modest kitchen rehab can do wonders.

That's my takeaway from the now much debated anecdote I posted yesterday of the North Shore family who found a buyer for their Cape after lowering the price and doing a kitchen rehab.

Yes, dropping the price from over $400,000 to $375,000 was important.

But a tired-looking kitchen had been a turnoff for buyers, with the Ipswich Cape having sat on the market all through last year's spring market and into the summer, according to the broker.

Back during the bubble years, buyers went nuts over homes with hardwood floors, fresh paint and a little shine. Despite the downturn, that hasn't changed. We are talking about human nature, after all, and the importance of first impressions, however superficial.

In fact, homes where the sellers have taken a little care particularly stand out here in Greater Boston, which has an overabundance of older homes in need of work, and, more often than not, a lot of it.

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What does it take to sell now? Well, a lot

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 16, 2011 08:29 AM

Here's a success story for today's market. Warning, if you think you can sell your house with minimal effort, this one is definitely not for you.

I caught up with Kim Sandler, past president of the North Shore Association of Realtors.

She had just put a four bedroom Cape in Ipswich under agreement - it had been last listed at $375,000.

Sounds easy, but getting there was anything but that.

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“Immune” no longer: Once seemingly resilient housing markets take hit in double dip

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 15, 2011 06:44 AM

Is a Las Vegas-style housing meltdown about to come to a town or neighborhood near you?

That might have seemed absurd a year or two ago, but no more.

Now metro markets like Seattle, Atlanta and Minneapolis that were once thought to be "immune" from the worst of the housing downturn are starting to see big declines in prices, The New York Times reports. (Thanks Lance for pointing this one out yesterday.)

Yes, these were all markets that were so diversified and vibrant that many economists predicted they would escape the worst of the real estate downturn.

No more. Seattle prices have fallen 31 percent from peak - and may have another 10 percent to go. Things aren't looking much better in Atlanta or Minneapolis either.

Of course, no need to read between the lines. This is a great big warning about what may be ahead for Greater Boston, the king of the supposedly immune markets.

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What rooms would you add or ditch in your home?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 14, 2011 07:52 AM

When it comes to new homes, small is beautiful right now. Ditto for retro designs – village colonials and wrap around front porches come to mind.

As they struggle to survive in one of the worst markets in generations, that’s one formula an increasing number of builders have settled on.

If you are a fan of the 70s' style modern home, with its collection of sharp angles and broad windows, well it looks like you are out of luck right now.

Still, while the classic look is in, some dramatic changes are being made when it comes to interior design. Let's just say once you step through the door, it's not your grandfather's village colonial.

Among other things, great rooms are here to stay, while sun rooms, hobby rooms and even living rooms are on the chopping block, according to local home marketing and research firm, PrimeTime Communities.

Basically, hello great rooms and goodbye traditional living and dining areas. Florida living in New England – yuk!!!

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A new era for home mortgages - or just more hot air?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 11, 2011 10:39 AM

OK, so the Obama Administration's blueprint for overhauling the mortgage industry is finally out.

Actually, it's not just one blueprint but three - kind of a pick-a-plan approach.

All three would eventually give the boot to troubled government-controlled lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but how they get there is a different matter.

One proposal calls for a new government agency that would ensure a smaller part of the market - not hard to do given the feds have their fingerprints on 90 percent of housing finance as it stands now.

The other two proposals - like I said it's the pick-a-plan approach -  either call for a new agency that would only step in during times of crisis or simply wind down Fannie and Freddie and leave just the Federal Housing Administration to guard the shop.

Of course, it will all take years to work out, we are told. And oh, by the way, it's up to Congress to pick the plan and give its blessing, according to Tim Geithner and gang.

Call me cynical, but a lot of options and a lot of years sounds like a great big nothing to me as far as anything getting done.

While we are likely stuck with Fannie and Freddie for years to come, bigger changes may be coming a lot faster for home buyers.

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Will the feds really get out of the mortgage business?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 11, 2011 08:32 AM

Well count me as highly skeptical.

The Obama Administration is set to unveil today its long-awaited proposal to revamp our nation's messed up mortgage market.

Yes, today is the day where we will learn how the feds plan to unwind an untenable system in which Uncle Sam has become pretty much the only buyer of residential mortgages. As it stands now, lenders across the country write mortgages and then ship them off Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, leaving taxpayers as the ultimate backstop for the entire residential mortage market.

Of course, the other big shoe to drop is a proposal to revamp the standard mortgage.

While some have pushed for 30 percent down, the recommendation is likely to be 20 percent.

I'll put up another post when more details come out.

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Homes sold for a loss rising as market falls

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 9, 2011 07:14 AM

Falling prices can be good news for buyers seeking deals - especially here in high cost Greater Boston.

But these are tough times for sellers, yes indeed.

The number of homes sold at a loss, on the rise over the past six months as prices have gone into reverse, hit a new peak nationally of 34.4 percent, according to Zillow.com's just released fourth quarter report.

Here in the Boston area, homes sold at a loss hit 30 percent in December, up from 28 percent in December, 2009, Zillow reports.

The average Boston area home value is now down to $314,200 - or a 21.1 percent fall from the July, 2005 peak. Nationally, prices are down 27 percent from peak, Zillow reports.

And the amazing thing is we've just started rolling on this double dip.

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The housing bubble lives on?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 7, 2011 06:38 AM

That's one of the disturbing possibilities raised by a thought-provoking MIT study that's fresh off the presses, so to speak.

By one key measure, the U.S. real estate market remains significantly overvalued, despite years of price declines, with home values 15 percent above their long-term historical average, according to a report posted on the MIT Center for Real Estate's website.

This result comes when the price increases generated during the bubble years are taken out of the equation and the current market is compared to the norm set between 1977 and 2002, according to economists Gleb Nechayev of CBRE Econometric Advisers and MIT's William Wheaton.

Under this measure, half of all major US markets remain overvalued, in some cases, dramatically so. Metro areas where prices are still a quarter to a third higher than historic norms include Miami, Richmond, Tampa, Washington as well as its Maryland suburbs and Baltimore.

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Western Mass a home sales hot spot?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 2, 2011 12:56 PM

Interesting breakdown of the latest Bay State home sales numbers by Banker & Tradesman.

While homes sales - not prices, mind you, which went down - were up in December, it was no thanks to Greater Boston.

Most of the activity was found far from the Hub, in Franklin and Berkshire counties out west and Bristol and Dukes counties to the southeast.

By contrast, home sales in Greater Boston were a big drag.

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Slide in home prices accelerates

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 31, 2011 12:29 PM

That's the finding of The Wall Street Journal's quarterly survey on home prices.

Home prices declined year over year in the fourth quarter in all 28 major metro markets tracked by the survey. In all but three, the price declines accelerated over the third quarter.

On top of all that, the amount of unsold inventory just keeps piling up as well. And that's even with the temporary slowdown in foreclosures in the wake of the robo-signing controversy.

Ouch!

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Next up: A double digit decline in home prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 26, 2011 06:45 AM

OK, home prices have begun to fall again in Greater Boston, land of the million dollar fixer-upper.

Check out the latest numbers from the Warren Group, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and Case-Shiller.

But so far, the declines have looked deceptively small for the Boston area, especially if you are focusing on the Case-Shiller numbers. It's been about a percent in each of the last few monthly reports.

All right, yawn, wake me up when it get's serious.

But don't be fooled. On our present course, we are on track to see a more than 13 percent decline in Boston area home prices by late 2011, notes economist Dean Baker at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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Home prices are finally dropping again – and everyone should celebrate

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 25, 2011 06:33 AM

Our comatose real estate market is finally stirring - and in the dead of winter no less.

Let's cut to the point. Bay State home prices have fallen for the first time in at least a year, both the Warren Group and the Massachusetts Association of Realtors  report this morning.

It is a decline that has been long-anticipated since the home buyer tax credit ended in the spring.

OK, that would seem like more bad news, but it isn't because of the second part of this emerging equation, rising sales volume.

Home sales, after going into a tail spin after the tax credit breathed its last on April 30th, have finally begun to bounce back again.

Let's go to the numbers.

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Is Greater Boston truly enlightened when it comes to housing discrimination?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 24, 2011 06:23 AM

I've always thought Greater Boston landlords and brokers were a relatively enlightened bunch.

But soon we won't have to guess at how much of a hold that bigotry of all types - including against sexual orientation - still has when it comes to sale of homes and the renting of apartments.

The federal government has launched a sweeping review of housing discrimination across the country.

It is the fourth such survey by Washington, which began doing such studies every ten years back in the 1970s.

This time, however, the review by the Department of Housing and Urban Development will take a broader look than in the past. For the first time, the federal government will also look at discrimination in rentals and sales against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals and families.

Can't imagine they are going to leave the Boston area, the economic capital of New England and one of the country's largest metro areas, off the list, can you?

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Last licks on The Big Short

Posted by Rona Fischman January 21, 2011 01:47 PM

60 Minutes interviewed Michael Lewis. For those of you who didn’t get to the book, this program did a nice summary for you. (If you can ignore the ED commercials, it is well worth your time.)

There are two major threads to this story. One is how the few people on Wall Street who saw the storm coming saw it, and held onto their belief in the face of the thousands who didn’t. The other is why the thousands didn’t see what should have been obvious.

"There are a handful of characters who actually had seen it coming and made a fortune off of it. And there were so few of them, and there were so many people who had been on the other side that I thought that I kind of wondered who they were and why they got themselves into that position," Lewis said. "What they saw. Almost more how they saw."

“Asked how many people he thinks were in the world who understood what was going on, Lewis told Kroft, "Between 10 and 20 investors at most and this is from the universe of tens of thousands of people who could have conceivably made that bet."

60 Minutes asked how the huge mistakes were made by high-paid executives,

…Lewis thinks the fiasco had more to do with Wall Street stupidity than corruption. Lewis explains:

"Wall Street is able to delude itself because it's paid to delude itself. I mean one of the lessons of this story is that people see what they're incentivized to see. If you pay someone not to see the truth, they will not see the truth. And, Wall Street organized itself so people were paid to see something other than the truth. And that's one of the central messages of this story. You have to be very careful how you incentivize people, 'cause they will respond to the incentives…"

I’ve been talking-up this book for months. I found that lots of people I know have read it. Here are two examples of what I heard:

My uncle Joel said his big question is “why haven’t truckloads of people gone to jail?”

My financial planner is more cynical. His take is that it will happen again; if there is a way to game the system, someone will find it.

Common sense on the street knew the lending practices of the 00s were a train-wreck waiting to happen. Still, the guys with their hands on the money were lining their pockets as they led the American economy to the brink of disaster.

Fool me once, shame on me (Savings and Loan Crisis, 1989.) Fool me twice… what is wrong with our economic system?

Two agendas, heading for a train wreck

Posted by Rona Fischman January 20, 2011 12:44 PM

In the summer and fall of 2007, I wrote here about the intentional targeting of minorities and women for subprime mortgages. I thought this was discrimination, pure and simple. I knew subprime loans were being sold to people who would qualify for conforming loans (and bigger commissions were being collected on the sale.) I knew that people who didn’t vaguely qualify for a mortgage were getting mortgages. I knew that once we got to peak, the house of cards would fall.

I didn’t know that in 2006 there was another agenda on Wall Street.

Like most people, I was not aware that people with great credit scores were being sought-out for their borrower credentials. Why? Because high credit scores were being used as a marker of a better mortgage bond. (Income and credit scores of a particular borrower were not being measured together.)

On July 1, 2006, Standard & Poor’s changed their rating model. Coincidentally, that was also the same time that real estate peaked. The assumption on Wall Street was that the new Standard and Poor’s ratings were stricter. Therefore, the creation of subprime mortgage bonds shot up.

Michael Lewis writes:

Either piece of news – rising rating standards or falling house prices—should have disrupted the mortgage bond market and caused the price of insuring the bonds to rise. Instead, the price of insuring the bonds fell. Insurance on the crappiest, triple-B tranche of a subprime mortgage bond now cost less than 2 percent a year.

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Attorney Vetstein says, "Read this book."

Posted by Rona Fischman January 19, 2011 01:09 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein first brought The Big Short to the attention of BREN readers. Today, he gives his review:

Having thoroughly enjoyed reading The Big Short, by Michael Lewis a few months ago, I was thrilled that Rona selected it as a BREN book club selection.

Review: If you are going to read one book about the market this year, read this one.

Back in 2005, credit default swaps, Alt-A tranches, and interest-only negative-amortizing adjustable-rate subprime mortgage were exotic pieces of the Wall Street mortgage securitization machine. Now, and after cases like U.S. Bank v. Ibanez, we now know the dark and insidious side of the industry.

Lewis taught us that Wall Street bankers knew as early as 2006 about the rising default rate on subprime mortgages but engaged in an elaborate scheme to hide that reality from ratings agencies and investors. He explained that when investor demand for subprime mortgages outpaced inventory, Wall Street came up with "synthetic" mortgage-backed securities whose performance would mirror that of the real thing. Then the bankers conspired to inflate the price of mortgage-backed securities well into 2007, even when they knew the true value was falling, only marking them down in value after their own hedging strategies were in place. And bank CEO’s know as much as a 5th grader about the risks their organizations were taking.

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To the home buyers of Greater Boston, my sincerest apologies

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 19, 2011 08:41 AM

Orangina cried foul on this one - and I'd have to say it was a good call.

I poked fun yesterday at our local buyers and sellers, arguing both are too demanding.

I'll let my comments on Greater Boston sellers stand - sorry, but they are a breed apart when it comes to low effort and high expectations - but I am having second thoughts on whether our buyers fit the same mold.

As evidence, I pointed to the four months the average buyer here is taking to look at 12 homes, compared to the three months buyers in other parts of the country spend eyeballing the same numbers of homes, according to a new survey by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

That's 25 percent more time spent looking at online listings and going to open houses than the average buyer in Phoenix or Boise.

Yet maybe something more than pickiness is at play here. Maybe, the choices for Greater Boston buyers are not so hot, especially compared to Sunbelt markets where new homes are a dime a dozen.

Here's what Orangina had to say.

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Mortgages and mortgage bonds

Posted by Rona Fischman January 18, 2011 01:50 PM

I won’t try to summarize Michael Lewis’s 264-page book, The Big Short . He tells the story of the collapse, including character portraits of some of the players, in a rather short book. I hope many of you have taken up the suggestion to read it.

Today, I write about how the concept of a mortgage changed in the past 50 years.

Before I was born, my father bought his one and only house. Thanks to the GI Bill, he had a very low rate. But, even if he had a typical rate, the concept of refinancing would not have crossed his mind. He didn’t get bombarded by mail or TV ads encouraging him to refinance. The advertising he got way by mail, and occasional. It intensified as time went on. My father didn’t bite. My father’s mortgage was paid off in 1986, not a second earlier. In this way, my father was pretty typical of his “greatest generation” status.

Then things changed. Businesses that sold early payment and refinancing changed Wall Street behavior, over time.

Michael Lewis explains:

“The big fear of the 1980s [mortgage]bond investor was that they would be repaid too quickly, not that he would fail to be repaid at all. The pool of loans underlying the mortgage bond conformed to the standards, in their size and the credit quality of the borrowers, set by one of the several government agencies: Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and Ginnie Mae. The loans carried, in effect, government guarantees…”

In my adult lifetime, everything changed. Mortgages stopped being long-term loans used to purchase housing. People with mortgages stopped holding them for 30 years. As inflation hit the housing market in the 80s and 90s and 00s, the “flipping” mentality emerged along with Americans borrowing against their bubble-created equity. In the mortgage bond market, this is what was happening:

Michael Lewis continues:

… the mortgage bound was about to be put to a new use: making loans that did not qualify for government guarantees. The purpose was to extend credit to less and less creditworthy homeowners, not so that they might buy a house but so they could cash out whatever equity they had in the house they already owned.

The mortgage bonds created from subprime home loans extended the logic invented to address the problem of early repayment to come with the problem of no repayment at all.

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Are home sellers, buyers more demanding here?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 18, 2011 06:51 AM

Yes to that - and I have a couple stats to back it up.

Home sellers here in the Bay State are a stingy bunch - they don't like to offer incentives and a fair percentage won't budge on price.

I'm getting that from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors annual survey of home buyers and sellers, just released a few days ago.

OK, just to be clear,that's my interpretation of the numbers, The Realtors, God bless 'em, are crowing that a "desire to own'' is what prompted 36 percent of buyers jump into the market.

Back to my take. Roughly 40 percent of those polled who managed to sell their homes did so without dropping the price. And just 26 percent offered incentives to lure buyers - about half the national (44 percent) average.

The most common deal sweeteners were help with "closing costs, home warranty policies and credit toward remodeling or repairs," according to the survey. Kind of boring - what happened to  offering playoff tickets (actually scratch that) or a Caribbean vacation? Too gauche, I guess.


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Are you looking at renovating, expanding your home? Well I want to hear from you

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 17, 2011 07:01 AM

A new Harvard report predicts a big jump in home remodeling - and with markets like Greater Boston that have lots of older homes leading the way.

After double digit declines come off the bubble years, Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies contends we are headed back to modest growth in the renovation market of about 3.5 percent a year.

The report's title just about says it all: "A Decade of Growth."

"Metropolitan areas with rising house prices, older housing stocks, higher incomes and home values, and a larger share of upscale remodeling expenditures, such as Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, are well-positioned for an upturn in remodeling activity," said Eric Belsky, managing director of the Joint Center, in a press statement.

Fair enough. While the economy and the job market is slowly improving, home prices and sales are not likely to bounce back dramatically anytime soon. Instead of moving up, more homeowners may opt to fix up instead.

OK, now its time to take this thesis coming out of the ivory tower at Harvard and put it to the acid test - how it fares on the comment board here at Boston Real Estate Now.

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Will they ever learn? Real estate industry trips over its rosy projections

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 13, 2011 10:59 AM

The home sales industry has untold millions to blow on self promotion.

Yet it's amazing how seeming lacking in savvy the industry's marketing is in some cases, particularly when it comes to market forecasts.

A case in point is the National Home Builders Association annual meeting.

The confab down in sunny Orlando is generating a gusher of stories about the trade group's predictions of a rebound in new home sales and construction this year.

OK, the economy is improving. But a 21 percent jump in new home construction and a 26 percent in sales for 2011? That seems like a stretch, especially given how the trade group's predictions for 2010 fared.

Instead of 610,000 new housing starts, after the numbers are fully counted, we will likely end up with 475,000, a number The Wall Street Journal, to its credit, notes in its story on the builders' convention.

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“Gene’’ likes to bid low, but did he push it too far?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 12, 2011 07:21 AM

A bidding war in the dead of winter - and in Burlington no less.

Gotta love the Greater Boston market - a half decent house in a solid town at a good price is enough to spark a bidding war, even in the toughest of markets.

A good sport, "Gene" just updated me on the latest in his now months-long hunt for a home in the western suburbs.

A tech guy, Gene and his wife have been bunking with his parents and stashing away cash.

His interest was piqued when he saw a three-bed, 1,600 square foot split level in half decent shape come on the market in Burlington for $340,000 - or 15 percent below the median sale price in town.

Gene and his wife offered $320,000. Instead, it wound up selling the day of the open house for $344,000, though with $3,000 back at the closing as a concession.

However, it got me wondering. Did Gene lose out on a decent home by going a little too far with the low-balling?

So I will throw it out there to the best appraisal service in Greater Boston - the readers and regulars who make this blog what it is.

Here's a link to the house.

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Declining home prices beat Great Depression mark

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 11, 2011 06:20 AM

That's the word from Zillow.com.

Home values have now fallen 26.1 percent from their peak in the bubble years, according to the Zillow Home Value Index. That beats the Great Depression decline of 25.9 percent.

We apparently crossed the threshold back in November - I wrote about this previously as prices edged towards that 1930s precipice.

Of course, this may be more of a reflection of desperation out in Phoenix, Las Vegas or Miami - while Greater Boston home prices have begun weakening again, we are still far from that Depression mark.

Still, often it's where you are headed that counts - and prices even here in the seemingly charmed Boston area have been unable to escape the larger, downward pull of a still very sick national housing market. (Of course, foreclosures have temporarily slowed down, which may help, at least for the next few months - that is until the logjam clears and banks get back to business again.)

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Salvation at last for Greater Boston home sellers?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 10, 2011 07:04 AM

OK, salvation may be too strong. But if you are trying to unload your home in the worst market in decades, the seas are briefly parting before you.

Hundreds if not thousands of foreclosures across the Bay State have been thrown into question by last week's landmark decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The court's ruling on the Ibanez case throws into question whether banks can push ahead with foreclosures if they can't definitely prove they hold the mortgages in question.

This is key, for it goes to the heart of a practice popular during the bubble years in which mortgages were bundled together and sold as securities on Wall Street.

It doesn't take much imagination to envision the mess ahead, with the threat of lawsuits by former homeowners who were booted through foreclosure clouding titles to properties across the state.

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Blame it on the Boomers? Expert sees demographics, not foreclosures, behind housing mess

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 5, 2011 05:58 AM

Welcome to the "Fix-Up, Remodel, Expand and Condominium Era."

That's the spiffy name William Lucy, a professor and housing expert at the University of Virginia, has given to our new decade, the 2010s.

But what's even more interesting is Lucy's take on what really ails the real estate market right now.

The good professor contends the real problem is not foreclosures or a flood of new homes but a grand, demographic quandary.

Basically, we have mismatch, with an epic number of Baby Boomers, numerically the largest generation in history, heading into retirement and looking to sell their homes.

But there is a dearth of 30-to 45-year-old buyers available or even interested in moving on up into these big Boomer suburban palaces.

The numbers, as Lucy lays them out, are startling.

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Hitting bottom? Pending sales finally up again locally

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 4, 2011 07:11 AM

The real estate market fell off a cliff after April, when the home buyer tax credit ended.

And it just kept on falling through the summer and fall, with home sales plunging by 30 percent.

But as we head into 2011, has this tailspin finally bottomed out?

Well just check out today's report on pending sales by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, which reports a 5.3 percent increase over December, 2009.

That's the first move up in sales after seven months of brutal declines.

But hold the champagne. For that's not quite the whole story. In fact, it would have been hard not to beat the December, 2009 numbers.

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Sam's predictions for 2011

Posted by Rona Fischman January 3, 2011 02:33 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team shares what he expects to see on the job in 2011.

Last January, I predicted; “Lenders and buyers would continue the return to conservative fundamentals. Some sellers will get in sync with the market, sell and move on while others will continue to test the waters with high prices and/or poorly presented property. Many will continue to sit on the sidelines hoping to regain some equity before moving on. Everybody will be waiting to see what happens with interest rates, foreclosures, government programs and the economy.”

In fact, we saw interest rates move up toward year-end. Foreclosures started, stalled and continued, government programs targeted at real estate fizzled, and the economy bumped and ground its way toward a recovery that didn’t mature.

Here are my predictions for 2011:

Uncertainty will continue as politicians distort any progress made by opposing parties and the media continues pitching fear-based predictions as news. The general public will continue to buy into national trends instead of learning about local trends. Therefore, we will have a year of confusion ahead.

I also think that 2011 will also be a year of reconciliation.

I believe that instead of continuing to wait for an economic and real estate recovery, many Americans that have been hanging on will give up waiting and reconcile their own situations. Lots of people that had high expectations will “get real” in 2011. Some will finally sell their homes for less than expected, give them back to the banks or declare bankruptcy. Therefore, I will call 2011 “the year of confusion and reconciliation”.

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Your nominations please: Real estate stories and trends the media missed/misreported in 2010

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 3, 2011 06:50 AM

Here's my beef.

Is it really that hard to connect the dots?

There were no lack of stories written in 2010 about the impact of the home buyer tax credit on sales, but most looked back instead of ahead.

As 2009 rolled into 2010, we were deluged with news stories belaboring the obvious - the tax credit was fueling a rise in home sales.

Wow, now who would have thought that?

But it was much, much harder to find stories or analysis in the mainstream press on what might happen after the tax credit expired last April 30th, that is unless include some tepid predictions that sales would "moderate."

Of course, sales moderated all right, plunging more than 30 percent and dragging the real estate market into a double dip decline.

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Here comes the double dip?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 28, 2010 11:19 AM

Wow, now here's a potentially seismic shift.

Check out this morning's Case-Shiller report - every single major metro market tracked, including Boston, saw home prices fall in October.

And Boston area prices, after months of steady declines, have finally sunk below 2009 levels. We're down .2 percent from October 2009, with a month-over-month decline from September of 1.2 percent, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

It is news that should not come as a total surprise - sales activity fell off a cliff in spring after the home buyer tax credit expired.

Certainly looks like a double dip, still how deep a dip we will see in 2011 remains to be seen.

Boston area home prices, thanks to a perennial dearth in new home construction, have been particularly stubborn on the way down. Even if prices continue to fall in 2011, that dynamic may mean a shallower decline here compared to the rest of the country.

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Banks behaving badly: Mistaken foreclosures roll on

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 27, 2010 08:20 AM

Imagine returning from a visit to grandma over the holiday weekend to find your house padlocked and your furniture and possessions cleaned out.

Then imagine your shock at finding out, after you called 911, the perpetrator was not some low-life burglar but your mortgage lender.

How could this be, you might ask, having never skipped a mortgage payment?

Well it's a question homeowners across the country continue to ask as the problem of "mistaken foreclosures" continues, despite months of negative publicity for some of the nation's top banks.

In one of the more recent cases, a Florida couple worked out a loan modification agreement and was making all their payments when they received a devastating letter from J.P. Morgan Chase. Their condo, Magaly Cervantes and Julio Bermudez, was told, had been foreclosed on and sold online.

A trip to the local courthouse led nowhere - the bank only began reviewing the case after some embarrassing attention from The Wall Street Journal.

Other cases are even more heart rending. A Pittsburgh woman who was not in default on her mortgage returned home from work one day last year to find her house padlocked, the utilities cut off and her parrot, Luke, gone.

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A roof overhead this winter

Posted by Rona Fischman December 22, 2010 02:17 PM

Although I have a bit of a “sunshine and lollipops” reputation about my area, I know that foreclosures are happening everywhere. Boingboing just printed these nifty directions about how to get to the foreclosure interface on Google Maps.

1. Punch any US address into Google Maps.
2. Your options are Earth, Satellite, Map, Traffic and . . . More. (Select "More")
3. The drop down menu gives you a check box option for "Real Estate."
4. The left column will give you several options (You may have to select "Show Options”
5. Check the box marked "Foreclosure."

At Thanksgiving, I wrote about homelessness. Today, on the doorstep of Christmas, think about foreclosure. Some of you have a “they deserve it” attitude. I don’t want to fight that fight today.

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Bay State home prices defy market gravity, but for how long?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 22, 2010 07:31 AM

A small army of prognosticators has gone on the record predicting a double dip in home prices.

Yet even as the number of homes sold has fallen off a cliff, the cost of buying a home in the Boston area - and across the state - just keeps going up, up and up.

The Bay State's median home price is on the cusp of breaking the $300,000 mark again, having hit $299,900 in November, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports.

That's a 5.2 percent jump over November 2009.

The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, pegs the price increase at 7.3 percent, to a new median sale price of $294,000.

It is the 13th straight month home prices have risen in Massachusetts, according to MAR.

And the increases come even as home sales continue their months-long swoon. MAR reports a 31 percent drop in sales activity from November, 2009, while the Warren Group pegs the drop at 29 percent.

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Should you check out the neighbors – as in median income and education – before you buy?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 20, 2010 07:16 AM

Housing snobs rejoice - technology has made your job much easier.

OK, sorry for the ribbing. Let's just say Greater Boston has more than its share of discerning buyers.

The Globe has reported extensively on the new census data and the fascinating portrait it presents of the Bay State's changing demographics.

And as one faithful follower of this blog notes, all this newly released data also provides house hunters with a wealth of information on various communities, from how far most residents made it in school to median income.

Here's a link to a chart that allows you to check out median age, education and income levels in towns across the state. No more guessing games.

So does this - or should this - all really matter? More than a few buyers are stretching to break into pricier towns, arguing they need to provide the best possible school systems for their children.

So why not take it a step further. Instead of just weighing the merits of that Colonial you just saw and the test scores of the schools in town, should you also be considering how much money your potential new neighbors earn and how far they made it in college - or whether they went at all?

I'm skeptical, but here's what one contributor to the comments section on this blog had to say.

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Bay State homeowners, brokers, lead nation in real estate optimism

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 13, 2010 06:07 AM

The rest of the country is bracing for another double dip in home prices.

But a sizable chunk of homeowners here in Greater Boston and beyond the 495 beltway are anticipating not a decline but rather a jump in real estate values over the next six months, HomeGain reports.

Massachusetts is No. 2 in the nation in homeowner optimism, with nearly 30 percent believing their castles will be worth more come June 2011 than they are now.

Virginia tops the country, with 37 percent of its homeowners in an optimistic mood.

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Before the party, who is buying?

Posted by Rona Fischman December 10, 2010 02:20 PM

Yesterday, I wrote about my middle-aged friends and our party chatter.

I came to that party on a Sunday night directly from a meeting where I wrote up an Offer. I had been to 12 properties that weekend with would-be buyers. The contrast is startling. There is still demand for housing when there is so much financial uncertainty.

I give a pretty bleak picture of the market, in terms of appreciation. This weeds out buyers who are still in la-la land about expecting the market to turn upwards the second they buy. I also make them look at the rent-versus-mortgage price, monthly. The downturn in prices and more-so the low interest rates are keeping the buying alternative alive for those in the high-rent districts. Sunday night’s buyer is the perfect example. When I asked why they don’t rent, he said, “I looked at rental houses and they abut parking lots or look like hell inside.” So they are committed to buy.

I also see a change in the financial planning of 2010’s buyers. Mostly, they are single professionals and young families who qualify to buy on one salary. They are planning on living on a single income. Present or future partner’s income will go to reserves or for extras.

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So far, Greater Boston home prices defying downward trend

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 10, 2010 09:37 AM

Now how's this for a contrast?

Nationally, home values are on track to drop $1.7 trillion in 2010, according to a new report out by Zillow.com.

But here in the Boston area, we should see the overall value of our homes and condos rise by $10.8 billion by year end. And that's on top of a $4.6 billion bump in 2009, when the Great Recession was still on the books.

To put things in perspective, Zillow pegs the overall value of the Greater Boston real estate market at $531 billion, down $105 billion from its bubble years' peak.

But hold the bubbly - I am not so sure the recent increases are something we should be celebrating. First, we may very well be on the edge of a reversal in this trend, and second, there's a good argument to be made that home values are still much too high here in the Boston area.

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From Wall Street, some truly radical solutions to the housing mess

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 8, 2010 07:03 AM

Like some giant Rt. 128 pileup at rush hour, the backlog of foreclosed homes just keeps growing.

So how about pre-approving soon-to-be-foreclosed homeowners for new mortgages? Or even granting amnesty to illegals who snap up foreclosure specials?

No, these are not ideas being bandied about by our supposedly socialist president. Rather they are some of the outside-the-box solutions thrown out by one of Wall Street's top housing experts.

Amherst Securities' Laurie Goodman is the queen of foreclosure numbers, as I noted in yesterday's post. Her warning that one in five mortgages is facing potential foreclosure has attracted attention from the likes of Dr. Doom himself, Nouriel Roubini.

But Goodman, in her housing market reports and in a recent panel I moderated for the Boston Security Analysts Society, is throwing out some truly interesting ideas that, if nothing else, deserve to shake up the current debate.

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Looking at the numbers

Posted by Rona Fischman December 7, 2010 02:19 PM

I know that my area* is atypical, but it is my beat and where I spend my time. Today, you get a look at the sales numbers.** Last summer, I posted the under agreement, sold, and median price info for my area to show what happened immediately after the tax credit expired in April.

The prediction that we’d have a dead drop in the market did not come to pass. The slow-down was real, but there was no dead stop. As the year ends, it looks to me like sales volume is pretty steady for the past three years and prices are going up a little, in my area.

Here are the numbers. What do you make of them?

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Foreclosure mess: Much bigger than you thought

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 7, 2010 08:39 AM

For anyone thinking the worst of the foreclosure crisis is behind us, wake up and smell the coffee. Or better yet, take a look at some of the numbers Amherst Securities' Laurie Goodman is crunching.

Goodman, who took part in a panel discussion on the real estate market I moderated last week at the InterContinental Hotel in Boston, contends one in five homes is either in foreclosure or facing potential foreclosure trouble down the line.

That's a whopping 11.6 million homes, or about 20 percent of the market, she told members of the Boston Security Analysts Society, which hosted the discussion.

It's a number that arguably provides a more comprehensive picture than the conventional default rate - 13.5 percent according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

And it clashes with conventional thinking in a banking industry bracing for another 4 million foreclosures, not double or triple that number. Here's a link to a recent report by Goodman and Amherst that lays out the numbers.

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Home prices down, but in tony towns, no deals

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 3, 2010 06:13 AM

Affluent suburbs like Wellesley, Weston and Lincoln have all seen sale prices drop off in the past few years.

But for young couples and families with dreams of breaking into these communities, drawn by their top performing schools and classic New England looks, it may actually be harder than ever.

That's what I found after hitting some open houses and talking to buyers on the hunt for deals in these towns - check out my story that ran Thursday in Globe West.

For Adam and Kelly, the choice boiled down to a home in Lincoln approaching the $600,000 mark not far from Rt. 2 with a similarly sized Cape in Weston within earshot of the commuter rail priced at more than $700,000.

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Already dirt cheap, foreclosure prices dive

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 2, 2010 06:33 AM

You know things have gotten bad when banks slash prices on foreclosure specials.

The average discount on foreclosed homes across the country hit 32 percent in the third quarter, up big time from 26 percent in the second quarter and 29 percent a year earlier, RealtyTrac reports.

Meanwhile, sales of distressed properties plunged 25 percent over the summer, a decline driven by the expiration of the home buyer tax credit and to some extent the robo-signing controversy.

So what does this mean for home buyers in a still relatively pricey state like Massachusetts?

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Different spins on the latest Case-Shiller numbers - from the co-founders

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 1, 2010 07:36 AM

Karl Case, the retired Wellesley College professor, and Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale, created the gold standard of home price indexes.

But the Case-Shiller co-founders often have very different takes on their own numbers, with the latest report on September home prices no exception.

In case you missed it, home prices fell .8 percent in September from August, according to the S&P/Case- Shiller index of prices in 20 U.S. cities. The numbers are still up over September 2009, but just barely, at .6 percent, with significant declines over the past two months.

Boston area home prices have followed the same pattern, posting a razor thin increase of .4 percent over September 2009, but having weakened steadily since the home buyer tax credit expired in the spring.

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Home of the future? Well it's real small

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 30, 2010 08:54 AM

OK, I have seen the future of home design and guess what? It's my spiffed up Natick fixer-upper!

Imagine my wife's surprise when I woke her up this morning with the news. Karen has come to like our much renovated and now modestly expanded village colonial a short walk from Natick center, but it's not her dream home either. Let's just say she was a bit skeptical. Who knew?

Alright, just kidding, mostly, though I did pester my groggy wife when I was writing this earlier. But check out Builder magazine's New Economy home. Looks like a dead ringer for a village colonial if I ever saw one.

Right now small is the new big in home design.

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Has the federal government gone subprime?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 29, 2010 11:11 AM

Uncle Sam sure has a lot of explaining to do.

He's spent years pumping untold billions into the housing market, only to see home prices and sales sink again.

Now he's getting hit by critics on the right and now the left, who contend our wayward uncle, in his desperation to keep the real estate market from collapsing completely, has made the ultimate down market move.

He's gone subprime, according to a growing number of critics on both sides of the political spectrum, replacing the high-cost mortgage dealers of old on the neighborhood stoop.

My guess is that readers of this blog are more familiar with the right's critique of the federal government's takeover of the mortgage market. In order to keep the mortgage market alive, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA let through a lot of questionable borrowers over the past two years, only to reap a whirlwind of bad loans.

While default rates of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned loans have declined somewhat over the past few months, they are still up over 2009.

Now here comes the left, with charges that the minority and lower income borrowers are winding up disproportionately stuck in higher cost FHA loans.

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Greetings from the Rust Belt

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 26, 2010 06:14 AM

As you read this, I am in sunny Warren, Ohio for my wife’s 20th high school reunion.

Anyway, before I left on our ten hour drive to the heartland, I did some quick research on home prices in Warren.

Just call it an alternate universe, where a nice looking ranch might cost you a much as buying a new SUV.

OK, I am basing that on the tiny photo at the bottom of Trulia’s Warren, Ohio page, the $29,999 three bedroom, one bath ranch. With that pricing, it sure sounds like a bargain – don’t want to go past $30,000!

Seriously, the median price is $62,900, though sellers in Warren, like everywhere, are still holding out for more. The average list price is $113,289.

Some more sobering stats - there are also 561 homes in some stage of the foreclosure process.

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When it comes to housing discrimination, it is open season on families with children

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 24, 2010 06:16 AM

OK, here in the waning days of 2010, why are condo associations, landlords and even town officials allowed to stick it to families with children?

A Methuen condo association is poised to settle allegations that it hit families with "excessive" fines after charging them $10 every time their children were caught playing tag or ball in the common area.

Under a proposed settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Stonecleave condo association will pay $130,000 to the families to settle allegations it violated fair housing laws, as well as a $20,000 fine, the Herald reports.

Apparently, the kids had been banished to a field farther out.

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Home sales fall – but prices rise again

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 23, 2010 07:14 AM

Just call it the Bay State home price riddle. Sales fall, big time, but prices, instead of declining, actually rise.

It's a pattern we've been locked into since sales of both homes and condos fell off the cliff this summer after the expiration of the home buyer tax credit.

Just released October numbers from both the Warren Group and the Massachusetts Association of Realtors tell pretty much the same story.

Home sales fell 28 percent, year over year, in October, according to the Warren Group, while prices rose nearly 4 percent to $289,000. The Massachusetts Association of Realtors pegs the home sales decline at 27.6 percent, while reporting that prices rose 3.2 percent to a median of $294,000.

So what's going on here?

Well it's a question I've asked before, but some clues are starting to emerge.

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New foreclosure trouble brewing as late payments rise?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 22, 2010 06:57 AM

Several states across the Northeast are seeing a sharp jump in homeowners falling behind on their mortgages.

That's the word out from TransUnion, which released its third quarter mortgage delinquency numbers over the weekend. Here's a link to TransUnion's press release on its report - I don't yet have the full copy.

The biggest increases in late payments were seen in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut at the region's core, as well as in outliers like Maine and Delaware.

Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as another swath of New England states - Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island - saw less dramatic increases.

The regional rise bucks a national trend that is seeing a slow but steady decline in mortgage delinquencies from a record-shattering peak in 2009. (That is with the exception of the Great Depression, which saw half of all homeowners either fall behind on their payments or face foreclosure.)

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Sellers, here's your chance

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 19, 2010 06:22 AM

Home sales have plunged since the home buyer tax credit breathed its last in April.

But now, thanks to the robo-signing scandal, along comes another artificial stimulus to prop up the housing market.

Hammered with questions over the validity of foreclosure paperwork, banks are pulling back big time, putting on hold both initial foreclosure petitions and foreclosure deeds, the last step in the process.

Foreclosure petitions fell 51 percent in October, while foreclosure deeds, representing completed home seizures, fell 39 percent, according to The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

Now don't get fooled here into thinking this is some great boost for the battered housing market. In fact, there are already some suggestions to that effect, unbelievably really. While this could prove a short-term boon for sellers - stick with me, I will get to that - it is likely to prove another unfortunate roller coaster ride for the housing market as a whole.

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Greater Boston home prices at elevated risk of decline?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 18, 2010 07:12 AM

OK, I am just the messenger here. But that's the assessment of mortgage insurance giant PMI.

The Boston area has a greater than 63 percent chance of seeing home prices wind up lower two years from now, PMI's latest market forecast finds.

That puts us near the top nationally, below only a tier of hard-hit Sunbelt cities that have been ravaged by foreclosures after rampant overbuilding during the boom years.

Some of those cities - Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix and Los Angeles - are rated as having a well over 90 percent chance of further declines.

By contrast New York and Washington have about a 50 percent chance of a further fall in home prices.

So how much more damage are we looking at here?

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Great Depression move over. Current housing downturn worse, economist predicts

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 17, 2010 07:32 AM

Our seemingly never ending housing market mess will soon have some unusual bragging rights.

The fourth quarter will see U.S. home prices plunge past the dismal record set during the darkest years of the Great Depression, predicts Stan Humphries, Zillow.com’s chief economist.

After the big run-up in the 1920s, home prices came crashing down to earth amid the global economic collapse from 1929 to 1933, falling 25.9 percent, Humphries notes. (He’s drawing his data from a study Robert Shiller did of the Depression years housing collapse.)

Right now we are at 25 percent, and heading downhill once again, with sales having collapsed from here to California with the end of the home buyer tax credit this spring.

“We will definitely get to that point – we will probably be past that point in Q4,’’ Humphries told me.

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Coming next: Foreclosure-free zones

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 12, 2010 08:33 AM

How long before local government officials really start upping the ante and try to stop foreclosures by fiat?

Maybe not long, as this Washington Post article shows.

Chicago and its environs have been declared a foreclosure-free zone by Cook County's sheriff, Thomas Dart, who is refusing to evict families after they have had the boom lowered by banks accused of potentially fraudulent foreclosure  practices.

Disturbed by the robo-signing crisis, Dart is sitting on a pile of 1,000 eviction requests, with the number growing by the day.

"I can't possibly be expected to evict people from their homes when the banks themselves can't say for sure everything was done properly," Dart said in a press statement posted by his office. "I need some kind of assurance that we aren't evicting families based on fraudulent behavior by the banks. Until that happens, I can't in good conscience keep carrying out evictions involving these banks."


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So far, a pretty shallow fall for Greater Boston home prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 11, 2010 06:48 AM

If the cost of buying a home around here doesn't seem all that different from the bubble years, it's not your imagination.

The Boston area was one of the first major metro markets to see home sales and prices head south.

In fact, the first signs the market was starting to head south cropped up in late 2005.

But after five years of stubbornly retreating prices, we are still stuck at 2003 prices, according to a new report from Zillow.com.

Greater Boston home values have fallen 17 percent from their peak in July 2005, to $328,600, Zillow reports.

That's compared to a 25 percent drop nationally and even greater declines in the 30 percent range in cities like San Diego and Chicago.

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The downtown Boston condo market goes on trial

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 9, 2010 07:01 AM

That's right, a federal judge is now hearing testimony on whether the Prudential should be given the green light to foreclose on the gleaming new W Boston.

Sawyer Development, which built the project, will make its case today in bankruptcy court why it should be given more time to find buyers for nearly 90 empty luxury condos. The developer has a powerful backer in its corner as well. Boston City Hall doled out $10.5 million in loan money last fall, enabling the new "lifestyle" condo and hotel tower to finally open its doors after years in construction.

The project's lender with $180 million on the line, the Pru laid out its case on Monday, no doubt bolstered by the relative dearth of sales at the posh new hotel and condo tower.

The proceedings will wrap up Wednesday, though a final decision is likely some weeks off.

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More sunny housing market predictions, courtesy of the NAR

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 8, 2010 07:03 AM

Sorry, I know this is juvenile, but when I saw another round of housing market predictions by the National Association of Realtors, that fount of realism, I just couldn't resist.

The Realtors' just wrapped up their annual conference - this year in New Orleans. On second thought, I'll resist any easy quips here involving Bourbon Street.

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When selling, should you factor in future price declines?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 5, 2010 06:53 AM

Housing market watchers are predicting another 10 percent or so plunge in prices over the next year.

And buyers know this. They not only want to get the best deal possible, but they also don't want to get burned. And a big part of that is not wanting to become a knife catcher, putting big money down now only to find your new home underwater a year from now.

So what's a poor seller to do?

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Fall market officially a fizzle

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 4, 2010 06:53 AM

Just in this morning - pending sales were down again in October.

Homes put under agreement last month across the Bay State fell 22 percent over October 2009, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports.

The numbers look slightly better when you look at the month to month figures, but really we are splitting hairs here. Pending home sales rose a stunning .06 increase in October over this September - essentially flat over September's already anemic numbers.

Pending condo sales fell 31 percent year over year, but were up 7.3 percent in October over September's lows.

Dead cat bounce anyone?

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Election Day and home prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 2, 2010 06:52 AM

Head to the polls - do your great civic duty.

But don't feel bad if you are wondering where the candidates stand on some basic bread and butter issues.

Much hot-under-the-collar rhetoric has been expended on such crucial issues as nonentity Paul Loscocco's decision to jump ship as Tim Cahill's running mate and endorse Charlie Baker.
Yet there has been little serious discussion of what if anything is to be done with the Bay State's messed up real estate market.

Sure, the sales tax issue is important, and what to do about state government - slash and burn or hold and expand - is hardly inconsequential.

Yet the cost of buying a home, especially in perpetually overpriced Greater Boston, still looms as an even bigger long-term challenge, not just for frustrated buyers, but for the health of the state's economy as well.

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In latest foreclosure mess, a $ilver lining for lawyers?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 1, 2010 06:49 AM

In the fallout over the robo-signing scandal, the stakes are suddenly getting bigger for financial institutions across the country.

Banks who lose foreclosure cases will now have to fork over legal fees to homeowners in the Empire State.

Nor are New York state lawmakers alone in taking aim at the banks, with similar proposals having passed or pending in state legislatures across the country.

In fact, as New York goes, Massachusetts can't be far behind.

"It's sweeping the country," Edward Mermelstein, a top Big Apple real estate lawyer, told me when I reached him the other day.

Still, it is also reasonable to be skeptical about just who these new laws really benefit.

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National Association of Realtors: “Sales recovery has begun”

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 27, 2010 09:20 AM

Who knew? I mean I was worried there for a while. I am truly, truly sorry for all my gloomy posts of late about falling home sales and now prices headed south as well.

Clearly, I had it all wrong. Really, I should have been listening to my inner optimist and staying away from such bad influences as Case Shiller, Calculated Risk or even now our local Realtors group, which at some point stopped seeing an instant recovery just around every corner.

Somehow I missed this latest bit of wisdom from Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

A man of many bold predictions, Yun is once again calling the bottom of the market and proclaiming that the long-awaited housing market recovery is at hand.

Sales of existing homes across the country increased 10 percent in September, even as median home price nationally fell to $171,700, a 2.4 percent drop from September, 2009, NAR reports.

Well who needs those pesky prices when sales are on the rise!

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Bay State home prices poised to fall again on the heels of another big sales drop

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 26, 2010 06:18 AM

Home sales have been in free fall across Massachusetts since the home buyer tax credit went kaput on April 30th.

Just take a look at the gruesome September numbers just out this morning.

But most tellingly, prices, which all through the summer rode the afterglow of the tax credit, are now clearly pointing south as well.

The median home price in Massachusetts plunged to $287,000 in September, down from $316,500 in August, the Warren Group finds. That new median price - $287,000 - is still up over September 2009, but by less than a percent - .35 percent.

Like it nor not, prices are headed down again after a year or more of being artificially buoyed by the home buyer tax credit. In fact, we are probably already below those 2009 prices as we speak - just wait until the October home sales report comes out in late November.

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Looking for an alternative to Greater Boston prices - go south

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 25, 2010 07:19 AM

I mean south as in Rhode Island, not foreclosure riddled Phoenix or Miami.

The "biggest littlest state in the union" sports some relatively reasonable home prices. And it's still within endurable commuting distance from the Boston market. (The line in quotes comes from a corny tourism campaign the Ocean State mounted back in the 1980s - one that has apparently stuck with me all these years.)

For decades now there has been a steady flow of home buyers into the relatively cheaper Southern New Hampshire market. It has effectively become a Boston suburb, with a steady stream of commuters crossing the border each morning and heading towards jobs in the Hub.

But I've heard far less talk of home buyers moving south to Rhode Island and trying a similar play by commuting to jobs along 128 or in downtown Boston.

Anyway, here's your chance - Ocean State home sales plunged 25 percent in September, according to a report just released this morning.

And Rhode Island home prices, after rising modestly last spring during the sales frenzy triggered by the home buyer tax credit, are coming down again as well.

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An election that could shake up Greater Boston's housing market

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 18, 2010 09:33 AM

Voters across the Bay State head to the polls Nov. 2nd.

And while most likely won't realize it, they will be deciding the future of the housing market, both in the Boston market and across the state, for years to come.

Most of the media attention has been lavished on the increasingly byzantine barbs and allegations being exchanged by the three gubernatorial candidates. Gee, news flash, maybe these guys really don't like each other - kind of funny how battles for power can bring out the worst in people.

Sadly, little if any attention is being paid to possibly the most consequential item on the ballot this coming election day - Question 2.

If passed, the referendum question would scuttle the Bay State's bluntly effective, though highly imperfect, affordable housing law that has been in effect for four decades now.

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Here’s a little something for the housing bulls

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 13, 2010 09:11 AM

OK housing bulls, judging from the comments on this blog, you are an endangered species. In fact, some days I wonder whether you are already extinct - that is until a stray, almost apologetic comment pops up weakly claiming things are not as bad as all those very vocal housing bears would let you think.

Well here's a new report, just out by The Concord Group, a housing consulting and research firm, which should give you at least something to fight back with.

We all know the downside of the current market - housing starts at record lows, stubbornly high jobless rates and a foreclosure epidemic that gets more messed up by the day. Oh yes, and even with lower prices and rock bottom interest rates, there are fewer buyers out there than back in 2009, when the Great Recession was still officially on the books.

Good thing that's all behind us now, but I digress.

The Concord Group looks at all this gloomy data and comes out with a surprising and very different conclusion than is currently the fashion now - a national recovery in the market for new homes by the end of 2012.

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Help for jobless homeowners - just as long as they didn't make too much money before

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 12, 2010 10:00 AM

The federal government's new loan program for unemployed homeowners is definitely not for everyone.

Especially if you are one of the many mini robber barons out there who, in the estimation of top Dems like Barney Frank, ruined our economy.

Of course I am talking about all those greedy rich folks who made more than $110,000 - or God forbid even $130,000 or $140,000 - in some evil sales job and walled themselves off in gated compounds in such exclusive enclaves like Franklin or Medford.

OK, just being a little sarcastic here, but I couldn't help myself after reading the fine print of federal government's much touted bailout of jobless homeowners.

And I guess as is to be expected, it is a program designed to cater to traditional Democratic constituencies while carefully cutting out everyone else.

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Renting now better than buying in Greater Boston?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 8, 2010 06:42 AM

You are better off renting an apartment in the Boston area than buying a home, Trulia contends.

Of course, that is until still relatively high home prices in Greater Boston fall to a much more affordable level - which I would argue is still a big if.

It's one of the findings of Trulia's latest Rent vs. Buy Index, just released this morning.

As I hinted, I am somewhat skeptical for a couple reasons here, but let's look at what Trulia is saying.

A little explainer first: Trulia's ratio is based on taking the average rent, multiplying by 12, and then dividing the figure into the average home listing price for the metro market in question. The higher the price to rent ratio, the better off you are renting as opposed to buying, according to Trulia.

Boston weights in at No. 10 on Trulia's list of major markets where renting makes more sense than buying right now.

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Housing bubble may be long gone – but we are still living with its inflated prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 6, 2010 10:03 AM

Behind the plunge in home sales is a standoff between sellers stuck trying to unload overpriced homes and skittish buyers.

A nationwide phenomenon, it is particularly intense here in Greater Boston, the land of perpetually overpriced homes in need of work.

There are lots of homeowners out there who bought during the bubble years and now, for one reason or another, are stuck trying to sell their homes at what are now widely seen as inflated prices. Having taken out jumbos to pay for $800,000 fixer-upper capes in Newton or Wellesley, there is no wiggle room now.

And buyers, for their part, have no appetite to buy homes still priced as if it were 2005 at a time when sales are plunging again and prices are pointed downward.

So what's to be done?

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No fall rebound – downturn in Bay State home sales accelerates

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 5, 2010 06:59 AM

Pending home sales for September are out this morning. And the numbers look pretty ugly.

The number of homes put under agreement across the state plunged 19 percent in September compared to last year, while condo sales posted a 27 percent year-over-year swoon, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports.

Maybe even more critically, the month-over-month downward momentum, instead of braking, appears to be picking up speed again.

As the summer neared its end in August, it actually appeared as if the swoon in home sales, which began after the home buyer tax credit expired in the spring, might have been losing steam. The number of homes put under agreement in August, while still off sharply from even anemic 2009 levels, actually increased 1.2 percent over July.

But that appears to have been just a blip on the way down.

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In a bid to unload foreclosures, Fannie Mae showers thousands on buyers, brokers

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 4, 2010 06:53 AM

It's kind of like the home buyer tax credit all over again - this time with a foreclosure twist to it.

With its stockpile of foreclosed homes rising by the day, government-owned mortgage giant Fannie Mae has characteristically decided to throw money at the problem - and lots of it. After all, there's lots of inventory to move - 150,000 foreclosed homes and condos at last count.

Home buyers who scoop up a foreclosure special before the end of the year can get 3.5 percent of the final sales price to put towards closing costs, under the latest Fannie Mae sweetener for foreclosure buyers.

That means $8,750 towards closing costs on a $250,000 home - a significantly better deal than the old $8,000, home buyer tax credit.

And as they say, that's not all. Fannie Mae will also provide buyers with a low cost, fixed rate mortgages with down payments as little as 3 percent. Even somewhat tarnished credit is not necessarily an obstacle, the troubled mortgage giant explains in a write-up on its new housing initiative.

Don't worry brokers, there's a bone here for you, too - a $1,500 bonus per sale if you manage to sell a Fannie foreclosure.

All sounds pretty desperate, at least from the perspective of Fannie Mae and its growing financial problems. It's stock, once in the $67 dollar range, is now down to 27 cents.

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How's the rental market for you?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 30, 2010 06:32 AM

Just call it the great rental market squeeze.

Amid all the angst over home prices, there's a big change quietly taking place in the real estate market here in Greater Boston.

Renters are on the rise, even as the number of homeowners falls amid rising foreclosures and increasing hurdles for first-time buyers.

The number of rent paying units across Greater Boston crossed the 600,000 mark in 2009, up more than 20,000 from 2006. Overall, renters now account for 36.6 percent of the Boston area's housing market, up roughly a percent from four years ago.

Meanwhile, the percentage of homeowners has fallen by about the same amount, to 63.4 percent locally, according to housing market estimates for 2009 the U.S. Census Bureau recently released.

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The Bay State's increasingly bipolar real estate market

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 28, 2010 10:49 AM

Here we go again.

The latest home sales numbers are out and, once again, sales are down steeply and prices are - you guessed it - up.

While sales posted an 18 percent, year-over-year plunge in August, the median price of a home hit $330,000, a 4.8 percent increase, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports.

The mixed signals were even more dramatic in the condo market, which saw sales plunge 21 percent from last year, only to see the median sale price hit rise to $304,700. Not only is that up from $279,000 last year, but MAR claims it is the first time it has seen the median condo price pass the $300,000 threshold.

The Warren Group came out with its own numbers today, pointing out that August's home sales numbers were the slowest in more than two decades.

What on earth is going on here?

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Wellesley the most expensive town in the Bay State? Don’t believe everything you hear

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 23, 2010 09:30 AM

A new survey that claims Wellesley is the seventh priciest real estate market in the country – and tops in Massachusetts – has generated a lot of buzz in print and on the radio.

The Coldwell Banker report has Wellesley behind only such havens of wealth, power and inflated real estate values as Palo Alto out in the Silicon Valley and such hedge fund and Wall Street havens as Greenwich and Rye.

But the survey is based not on actual sale prices, but rather on the listing prices of homes. Moreover, the pool of homes examined is somewhat limited, having to have at least four bedrooms and two baths.

So while Wellesley list prices may be near the top nationally, actual sales tell a different story. In fact, the survey may say more about the aspirations of Wellesley homeowners – and the jarring contrast with what is actually happening out in the marketplace – than anything else.

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What happens in Vegas, hopefully, stays in Vegas

Posted by Rona Fischman September 22, 2010 02:16 PM

Here's Attorney Richard D. Vetstein, with his perspective on the Mass. real estate market from Las Vegas.

I just returned from a real estate conference in Las Vegas. (I know, poor me!). What really struck home was how horrible the Las Vegas, NV real estate market is, and how lucky we are to be based in Massachusetts.

How bad is the Las Vegas real estate market?
Check out these stats:
Las Vegas home values have plummeted from a high of $294,000 in 2006 to $121,000 in July 2010. That’s a 59% drop.

Meanwhile, the foreclosure rates are still off the charts. In the last month alone, approximately 13,000 Nevada households received a foreclosure notice, and that’s down 13.9% from the same six-month period last year. Extrapolating, that’s roughly 156,000 foreclosure for the last 12 months!
Las Vegas/Nevada was also replete with subprime, no-doc and stated income loans which have been defaulting at an amazing rate. At the end of 2009, a whopping 81% of Las Vegas homes were underwater on their mortgages. Vegas was Ground Zero for the housing bubble, and has been the #1 state for foreclosures for 3 years running, where a whopping 1 in 84 households are now in default or foreclosure. And that’s why the Las Vegas real estate market and agent activity is all about foreclosure, REO properties and short sales. Thankfully, that’s not the case here in Massachusetts.


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For sellers, letting go of that dream price is hard to do

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 22, 2010 06:01 AM

The standoff between sellers and buyers over prices appears to be intensifying.

You'd think with home sales now in an arctic deep freeze that sellers would adjust their expectations.

But just the opposite is happening, that new survey just out from HomeGain finds.

In fact, it might be the most surprising tidbit tucked in there.

Nearly 80 percent of homeowners surveyed in a recent national poll commissioned by HomeGain contend their homes should sell for more than the price recommended by their real estate agents. And guess what, that's up from an already disturbingly high 77 percent in the last quarter, the survey of 2,600 homeowners finds.

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Hub office tower czar offers tough love for ailing home sales

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 21, 2010 06:38 AM

I guess he won't be buying any half empty condo towers anytime soon.

Mortimer Zuckerman is chairman of hometown real estate giant Boston Properties and a power-player in the Beltway as chairman and editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report and owner and publisher of the New York Daily News.

Of course, he's also super rich. A one-time Harvard Business School prof who got his start at an old line Boston commercial real estate firm, Zuckerman has made a bundle buying and developing office towers here in Boston and across the country.

As I write this, Boston Properties is locked in a bidding war for the Hancock tower, looking to add the iconic skyscraper to a local collection that already includes the Prudential tower.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Zuckerman paints a fairly devastating picture of the housing market and its dismal state.

But his prescription, tucked in at the very end of the piece, is one the housing bears will certainly love. Basically, get government out the way and let prices find their natural bottom so they can rebound from there.

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Realtors finally getting in on market conditions?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 20, 2010 06:08 AM

Amid the worst market in decades, real estate agents, with their professionally sunny disposition, are a favorite target.

So maybe, just maybe, we are finally starting to see the signs of a more realistic attitude on part of a crowd that too often looks at a frog of a real estate market and proclaims it a prince.

Ninety percent of real estate brokers across the country surveyed by HomeGain believe prices will either fall or stagnate over the next six months. Here's the breakdown: nearly half, 48 percent think prices will fall, while another 42 percent see no movement at all in prices over the next six months.

Only 10 percent of the agents surveyed predicted prices will rise over the fall and winter - all of whom are currently involved with selling luxury condos in downtown Boston. OK, just kidding.

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Fall market kicks off as dark clouds loom

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 17, 2010 06:43 AM

The for-sale signs are up again in my hometown of Natick and in neighborhoods and communities across Greater Boston as the traditional fall sales season kicks off.

But a spate of reports over the last day or two raise serious questions about where the market is headed - the downdraft in sales and prices is gaining momentum.

  • CoreLogic reports that home prices remained essentially flat in July, the first time in five months that no year-over-year gains were reported. Prices fell in 36 states, twice the number from May, when the afterglow from the home buyer tax credit was still strong, and the most since last November. Reuters cites the same report as predicting the inventory of unsold homes on the market - which ballooned to 11 months over the summer - could double to nearly two years.
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No real estate rebound without another drop in prices?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 15, 2010 11:29 AM

That's bitter medicine. But such is the prescription for our ailing real estate market put forth by one top housing market analyst quoted in this Bloomberg piece.

Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist of Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc., a New York economic forecasting firm, is predicting another drop in home prices of 10 to 15 percent across the country. And he contends if that gets buyers off the sidelines and into the action, clearing out millions of homes that are now languishing on the market unsold, that would be a good thing.

"The best thing that could happen is for prices to get to a level that clears the market," Shapiro tells Bloomberg. "Right now, buyers know it hasn't hit bottom, so they're sitting on the sidelines."

To an extent, his argument makes some sense.

If you are an auto maker and you overshoot the market, you slash prices and get rid of that backlog of SUVs or pickup trucks.

But the actual market realities, especially here in perpetually overpriced Greater Boston, make for a more complicated picture.

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Home prices headed toward new lows, but what about Greater Boston?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 10, 2010 11:09 AM

Now that should get a rise out of the housing bears.

Still, I contend it's a fair question.

All signs point to another drop in housing prices on the heels of the big deceleration in sales we have seen.

The Bay State has seen home sales fall off a cliff over the summer after the home buyer tax credit breathed its last in April.

Nationally, the picture has been the same.

Yet oddly, prices have continued to edge up - median home prices jumped 7.4 percent in July to $333,000, according to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

Across the country, home prices rose 5.7 percent over the summer, according to a recent market analysis by Clear Capital.

But those higher prices, the afterglow so to speak from the artificially heated spring market before the end of the home buyer tax credit, is not destined to last, the firm predicts.

In fact, home prices will likely hit negative territory again by year end, before dipping below 2009 (Great Recession) levels next year, Clear Capital contends.

That said, the real estate downturn in Greater Boston has been long and shallow, starting back in 2005 but marked by a relatively modest decline in prices compared to many other metro markets.

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Landlord-tenant hell: the end of the season

Posted by Rona Fischman September 3, 2010 02:12 PM

We have now rounded the corner into September and the storm of U-Hauls and out-of-state plates has receded to an intermittent drizzle. I have two topics for today: one is a review of this series; the other is my take on how the rental season influences my life as a buyer’s agent.

First, about the blog:
Are there any last-lick questions about landlords and tenants that have been left unasked and unanswered? Should landlord-tenant Friday continue, come back again next summer, or go away forever as a failed experiment?

Second, about my business. Some of my clients buy based on their rental cycle. This affects my business in a couple of ways:

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A modest proposal to stimulate the housing market

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 2, 2010 10:32 AM

It's bail out time again, with the housing market in a nose dive.

So forget about pesky little pump primers like the home buyer tax credit - let's start thinking really big here.

Along those lines, I got a kick out of this tongue-in-cheek proposal from gcbma, a blog regular, that he claims will both save the housing market and the economy at the same time.

An honest to God twofer if there ever was one.

It's modeled on cash for clunkers, which, as well all know, has made the American auto industry the envy of the world once again - well maybe the Third World, but who's counting.

As you recall, that visionary government stimulus program doled out cash for consumers to trade in their old gas guzzlers for scrap and buy brand new fuel efficient Japanese cars.

Well how about cash for fixer-uppers. You agree to buy a new, energy efficient home. Then Uncle Sam will give you cash for your old, carbon belching hut and bulldoze it!

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Time to bring back the home buyer tax credit?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 1, 2010 11:23 AM

Panic is mounting as the downturn in the housing market picks up speed.

Check out the latest big spike in foreclosures across the state.

And, shocker of shockers, there are calls once again to bring back the home-buyer tax credit.

CNBC's Diana Olick offers an insightful round up of some recent statements by top Washington power brokers and congressional candidates that may be setting the stage for a return of the controversial federal handout to home buyers.

I guess I am torn between pumping more money into the housing market to prevent a complete collapse and edging back from all the supports and letting prices find their natural level.

But if more stimulus is needed, can't we do better than falling back on what turned out to be one of the more disastrous economic gimmicks of recent decades?

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Housing owners staring at another 10 to 20 percent price drop?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 26, 2010 11:11 AM

That's what housing market bears like Gary Shilling and Meredith Whitney have been forecasting for months.

Now both economists, after being dismissed as the more extreme of the bears, are looking pretty much on target after this week's dire slate of real estate reports. In case you missed it, July home sales plunged 27 percent across the country and by about the same number in the Bay State.

I stumbled across a couple interviews of Shilling on various financial news sites dating back to late June - they seem pretty prescient now.

Shilling is predicting a 10 to 20 percent fall in home prices. Moreover, he expects it to be a slow, drawn out slide, not bottoming out until 2013.

Whitney, sometimes derided as a prophet of gloom herself, has been forecasting another 10 percent dive in prices.

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No fall rebound for hard-hit housing market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 25, 2010 11:11 AM

One of the odd aspects of yesterday's deluge of bad housing news was the rise in home prices, even as sales collapse.

Bay State home prices rose more than 7 percent over July 2009, even as sales fell 28 percent. Nationally sales plunged 27 percent, while prices edged up .7 percent

However, be forewarned, there is no silver lining here to grasp at here.

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Homes sales plunge below 2009 (Great Recession) depths

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 24, 2010 11:06 AM

The tax credit is now history and home sales are spiraling furiously downward - both here in the Bay State and across the country.

The news this morning is pretty bleak - it sure looks like the long-predicted double dip in the housing market has arrived, and with a vengeance.

Sales of single-family homes dived 28 percent in July, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports this morning.

Month over month, the numbers were even worse, with sales down more than 38 percent from June.

Condo sales were down more than 33 percent year over year and 42 percent from June.

Nationally, home sales plunged more than 27 percent, the largest drop on record since the National Association of Realtors first began tracking these stats in 1968.

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Greater Boston a pretty tough market for sellers as well

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 20, 2010 11:32 AM

I have written a lot about the challenges facing buyers searching, sometimes in vain, for a reasonably priced home in one of the nation's most overpriced housing markets.

Well it's no picnic for sellers here either. According to a new survey out by Redfin, the success rate for sellers in Suffolk County, which covers Boston and a couple surrounding communities, is shockingly low.

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Life, liberty and the right to a rock-bottom mortgage rate?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 18, 2010 10:47 AM

Now that's the way to shake things up.

With a big assist from controversial bond guru Bill Gross, today's summit on housing finance down in Washington is off with a bang.

Gross, who runs the largest bond fund in the world, touted his controversial proposal for a massive, federally-backed plan to refinance millions of homeowners paying more than 5 percent to today's lower rates. The rate on a 30-year mortgage is now hovering at a record low of 4.44 percent.

Gross, who runs Pacific Investment Management Co.'s $239 billion Total Return Fund, talked up his proposal at a panel discussion chaired by U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

The proposal would be targeted at homeowners with federally-backed mortgages stuck paying interest rates of 5.5 percent or higher. That's more than 18 million homeowners.

Gross' pitch is simple - refinancing millions of mortgages at today's rates would save homeowners more than $46 billion. In turn, this would spur $50 billion to $60 billion in new consumer spending and push up home prices by 5 to 10 percent.

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Will falling prices and rock bottom rates spark turnaround?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 17, 2010 11:07 AM

Well that's what our local Realtors are arguing.

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors just released its monthly Realtor Market Index and it's hard - at least for someone like me who writes about real estate but doesn't sell it - to interpret the results as anything but downright gloomy.

Basically, the index operates on a 100 point scale, with anything above 50 a rising market and anything below a declining market.

So July's index score - of 28.15 - should be an eye opener. It's a 25 percent drop from July 2009, when the index was at a somewhat higher - but still struggling - 37.89.

Separately, the Realtor Price Index tumbled more than 6 percent compared to July 2009.

Overall, pending sales of single-family homes fell 18 percent in July and condo sales a whopping 28 percent for the third straight month, MAR reported in early August.

You have to hand it to MAR for doling out the bad news, never a favorite activity for trade organizations of any type.

Yet the real estate group is also scrambling to find a silver lining in this big mess. Not exactly a shocker, but still somewhat off-key given what's happening in our broken down economy.

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Time to end perks for homeowners?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 13, 2010 10:31 AM

OK, the Republicans are right about one thing.

Despite a lot of hype from the Obama Administration, don't expect any bold action from the president at this Tuesday's summit on housing fianance reform.

However, at least in the case of one key facet of the American housing market and middle class life - the mortgage tax credit - that is not such a bad thing.

The housing meltdown is prompting calls for a sweeping evaluation of the federal government's relationship to the housing market. Check out this pretty extensive piece from USA Today - not bad for a paper designed to look